The discussion about "must reads" and the subsequent thread drift into talking about classifications--"cozy", "noir/hardboiled", "traditional mysteries," etc.-- reminded me of an experience I had right after Bouchercon 2005.

At the time, you must understand, I was a horrible noir snob. If it wasn't Bruen, or Crumley, or Guthrie, or someone like them, I didn't want to hear about it. (Actually, I snuck a few historicals in there, but I didn't tell any of my friends.) So when William Kent Krueger's Blood Hollow won the Best Novel Anthony, beating out Bruen's The Killing of the Tinkers, I was outraged. "Damn bunch of bourgeois old ladies," I fumed, "they just want some safe, non offensive formulaic stuff you can buy off the rack at the supermarket! They don't comprehend real genius!"

Then I noticed that Blood Hollow was one of the books in the goody bag. I took it on the plane home with me, ready to sneer.

And it knocked my socks off. It was riveting. I couldn't put it down. In a word, Kent Krueger rocks. And I'm damned if I know how to categorize him. Dark? Certainly. Hardboiled? Please. He's from Minnesota, for chrissakes. The only word I can use to describe it is "excellent."

So thanks, Kent. Your writing saved me from noir snobbery. Oh, I still love my Thompson, My Starr, My Swierczynski. But I also love my Krueger, my Lippman, my Margaret Maron.

So what book outside your usual genre preference have you loved beyond your expectations?

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Gimme some time to think about this....
Take as much as you need.
Water For Elephants
I don't have any snobbery about it one way or the other - each to their own - but I do tend to go for the darker stuff. Not necessarily noir (in fact, not even usually noir), but stuff that's a bit grim or downbeat.

One book that surprised me greatly, though, was Little Face, by Sophie Hannah. It's about a woman who thinks her baby has been swapped for a different one. Doesn't even involve a murder in the main plot, as such. On the surface, it's cozy, but it manages to be emotionally very brutal. The writing's gorgeous too. She's also a great poet, but anyway, that was one book where I was blown away by something normally entirely off my radar.
Reading Mr. Krueger for the first time right now. Iron Lake is some pretty good stuff 'dere
Met Kent at Left Coast Crime in Monterey. Hell of a nice guy, and now am motivated to pick up his book. Thanks!
If I limited myself to one type of book, I know I'd be seriously depriving myself of some truly enjoyable experiences. That is not just inside the mystery umbrella, either--several of my favorite books in the last year are not mystery at all, yet moved me, made me cringe, raised my hair on end, made me say, "Wow!" I love William Kent Krueger's books--thanks for the reminder, I have two on the shelf just waiting for me. Plus, he's such a nice guy, too.

Jan Burke's BLOODLINES was my most recent mystery read that kept me up at night, and Alexandra Sokoloff's THE HARROWING, a mystery-horror novel, kept me jumping in broad daylight. (Alex is on here, btw). Now I'm reading Iain Pear's THE INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST and it has me riveted for entirely different reasons. I'm barely into the book and definitely would recommend it to those who like historical fiction and don't mind medical gore.
I've never really had genre sonobbery, but I applaud you for being straight about it. I think more people have it than like to admit.

I think I used to be an opening snob. If a book wasn't knocking me out within the first 25 pages, I'd give up. I learned later that some amazing books have a slow burn beginning. I've actually come to love the onion peeling of some authors, but I'll still take blood and guts and mayhem on the first ten pages.

As for BLOOD HOLLOW - I read it for the exact same reason you did, and I had the exact same reaction you did.
Great thread! Clearly I need to be saved too, because I couldn't think of a single book I'd read in the last year or so that went against my usual fetish for the dark stuff. When I do read outside of the mystery/crime genre, it tends to be books like WORLD WAR Z by Max Brooks or DAUGHTER OF HOUNDS by Cait Kiernan. I think I stick to to the dark stuff more out of laziness than snobbery. The to-be-read pile is always higher than my head and it's difficult to convince myself to take a risk on something different when there are so many books that I already know will be right up my alley.

That being said, I would love to check out some of the books that have been recomended on this thread. It's like that Amazon "people who bought X also bought Y" feature, only better.
One of the more troubling things I find is that a lot of writers don't read outside of their genres. (more disturbing, and frustrating are those who write in the genre, but can't be bothered to read it.) I try to read across the spectrum as best as I can. Granted, the majority of books I read are dark crime stories, but I've been known to crack the spine of a cat mystery, I've read Julie Garwood (and not the ones labeled as mystery, I mean lovey dovey type stuff), I've read both Bridgit Jones books, George R.R. Martin is fantastic, I don't know how I survived without the science fiction of James Patrick Kelly, I idolize Hemingway, find Fitzgerald's prose to be just beautiful, I wouldn't have been a writer if I hadn't fallen in love with John Irving's characters. I think who I am, not only as a writer, but as a human being, is because of the wide variety of my reading. Narrowing yourself on what you read only hurts you, both in your writing and your development of the mind. Then again, I'm really tired and I have no idea if any of what I just write makes sense.
I really liked THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, by Mark Haddon. Okay, technically there was a death/mystery - and a dead dog, no less, but it's not a genre novel. I also really enjoyed I AM THE MESSENGER by Markus Zusak. Both of these were YA novels, and both quite good for different reasons. Also just finished Joe Hill's HEART-SHAPED BOX, which was excellent - far exceeded my expectations.

I like reading genre, but mostly I just like reading good books. Good writing trumps all. I'll pick up just about anything except for romance - can't get interested/excited about that stuff. I confess that I've tossed more books aside during the past year than the whole rest of my reading life before. Guess I'm all out of patience with wasting time on mediocre writing.
I just read Don WInslow for the first time, and California Fire and Life blew me away. THe problem is how the hell do you have enough time to read more than one novel by an author? I want to read everything an author has published... but there's just not enough hours in the day...

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