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?