Okay, say someone hasn't read a lot in the mystery/thriller/noir genre(s) and has asked you for recommendations? Who are the must-reads in each of those sub-genres and why? If they're "classic masters" that's fine, but I'd love to see a list of who you all think are the contemporary best-of-the-genre as well.

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Hammett, Chandler, Cain ~ they are the true fathers of hard-boiled. Can't be missed.

Poe, Doyle and Collins, there is nothing more to be said when it comes to classics

Currently mad about O'Connell, Connelly, and Connolly. McDermid, Macbride, Hayder, Billingham, Blunt, James, all in just the police/crime sub-genre.

PI's, reporters and amatuer sleuths~ I like Lehane, Mina, Welsh, Grafton, Paretsky, Hambly, Laurie R. King, Scoppetone, Wing, Pattison, Walters, Rendell, Mueller.
One writer I should have mentioned, and I don't think I saw his name yet, is Richard Price.
I have to include Chester Himes. Man, I keep remembering all these writers after I post.
There's only six volumes you need to read to have a pretty well grounded start. After that you can follw up with whatever you want and know where it falls in the continuum. Raymond Chandler: Stories and Early Novels, Raymond Chandler: Later Novels and Other Writings, Dashiell Hammett: Crime Stories and Other Writings, Dashiell Hammett: Complete Novels, Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s (which includes: The Postman Always Rings Twice, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Thieves Like Us, The Big Clock, Nightmare Alley, and I Married a Dead Man) and Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s (which includes: The Killer Inside Me, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Pick-Up, Down There and The Real Cool Killers). All published by the Library of America.
Forgot to mention that the International Thriller Writers website has a must read list of thrillers up.
Looking through the lists (scanning, admittedly), I didn't see Stephen Hunter. His books about Bob Lee Swagger, especially POINT OF IMPACT, are top-notch thrillers.
I forgot Cornell Woolrich, the author who distilled noir fiction into an art form.
I would also add James Lee Burke to the mystery/literary bent side of the equation.
Andrew Vachss is a must-read for me.

Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series keeps getting better.

I've loved everything by Denise Mina and Charlie Huston.
I'm amazed again that the discussion has continued to roll right over Sandra Scoppetone's question about women and my list of golden age and contemporary classics, mostly written by women, on the whodunit side of the genre. I hope some crimespacers who appreciate the heirs of Dorothy L. Sayers et al will speak up.
Liz
Actually, I'm reading an anthology of Sayers' short work right now. It's fun stuff, mostly. the one with the crossword puzzle in the pool gave me the hives, 'cause I hate that sort of thing, but otherwise, I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

Never got that much into Christie, I'm sorry to say. Her characters just never really engaged me.

But I loves me some PD James, not to mention Margaret Maron and the divine Ms. Lippman (aka Laura).

Heck, one of my early writing inspirations was Katy Munger's Casey Jones series, which beats Evanovich all hollow when it comes to mysteries with female heroines.

However, getting back to the question in the original post, in which we proposed a hypothetical non-mystery reader and asked "what do you give this person to get them into the field." I probably wouldn't start them off with the "golden age classics" until they were solidly hooked, because some of them could easily seem a bit dated and dry, even a bit bizarre to a modern non-fan. Just as if I was trying to get somebody hooked on science fiction, I wouldn't start them with Chronicles of the Lensmen. Or perhaps I'm just misunderestimating our hypothetical newbie.
Nah, Dusty, you got the intent of my question correct. (Though that newbie isn't entirely hypothetical -- I've had a few friends of my kids ask me where to start reading, which is a good sign.) I like seeing how everyone else here has prioritized the must-reads. It's like having a syllabus spelled out.

Elizabeth, I hope you and Sandra add more names to this list on the more traditional mystery side, particularly women. I'd really like a good, well-balanced list.

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