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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I read crime and literary fiction with the occasional non-fiction book. I would love to find a horror story or a sci fi book that really grabbed me but so far it hasn't happened. Usually the writing lets me down more than the plot. Any suggestions of one of either to knock me off my feet?
Neil Gaimon's AMERICAN GODS is really good (kinda sci-fi/fantasy, excellent writing). For horror, my current pick is Joe Hill's HEART-SHAPED BOX. Charlie Huston has some great books that combine horror and crime.
For SF, I'm a big fan of the dystopian SF of Richard K. Morgan, such as ALTERED CARBON, BROKEN ANGELS, and MARKET FORCES. After reading ALTERED CARBON, I guarantee you, you will never hear the words "U.N. Envoy" the same way again.
China Mieville (PERDIDO STREET STATION, THE SCAR) does wonderfully strange SF/Fantasy like you've never read before. Then of course, there's just about anything from Iain Banks. I'm particularly fond of FEERSUM ENDJINN and USE OF WEAPONS.
Good sci fi: James Patrick Kelly (mostly short stories, but they are brilliant in imagination, characterization, and simply great writing). You can listen to a free podcast of his latest novella on line. Also Kelly Link who was named as one of the best American writers by Time magazine last fall. And Neal Stephenson, but his books tend to be extremely long. I'll second Gaiman, but his stuff is mostly fantasy. Oh, and I have to give a plug to a friend whose book comes out in a few weeks - Sandra McDonald. I've read parts of it and it is very well written.
I'm all over the place. Crime, science fiction, literary, horror, romance, fantasy.

I grew up mostly with science fiction. Some pretty godawful stuff, too. Amazing some of the crap I've read. For a long time that's all I read. Picked it up from my old man who'd leave copies of Heinlein and Bradbury and Asimov lying around. Is it just me, or does Harlan Ellison just suck?

Took me a long time to figure out it wasn't genre or a particular writer that got me, so much as it was just an engaging story and good writing.
Stephen, I didn't realise we'd had such a similar 'upbringing' in the world of books. I think I only read one Ellison as high schooler so I can't really comment on his work. He does strike me as a bit of a tool, though.
I think the greatest crime my dad committed, besides having cheap Hawaiian beer in the house, was leaving some of the worst fantasy and sci-fi garbage lying around. Piers Anthony. I can't beleive I read that crap.

As to Ellison, you're not missing anything. Aside from a few decent pieces most of his stuff blows. He suffers from the same problem a lot of short sci-fi and horror writers from his generation have suffered from. Instead of stories with an actual plot they're more like pointless scenes with a twist at the end. "And then the indescribable, gibbering, gibbous man-thing leapt from the mirror and devoured the protagonist whole!"

Lovecraft, for instance. Not lumping him with Ellison, but he pretty much set the stage for the plotless narrative. I loved his stuff growing up, mostly because I was an Uber geek and that was just one more think I could be a geek about. Looking back on it now, though, he's just a xenophobic paranoiac flapping his gums about foreigners.

Richard Matheson, though. He do good horror.
Piers Anthony. Sheesh. I remember liking that series about the gods of time and chaos and such, but everything else, so damned tedious. I didn't catch on until I read one of the notes at the end of the novel. Piers went on and on about word count targets. Hey, targets are fine, but only if the story's working.

Richard Matheson I totally have to check out. It's not the first time I've come across his name. Actually, Charlie Huston recently admitted to pretty much 'stealing' Matheson's rules of vampires (check out Bat Segundo to listen to it).
I grew up with SF too. As for Ellison, well, he used to be my idol. But I picked up some of his early work not too long ago and...well, let's just say, some of it didn't hold up. But some did.
Same here. Can't fathom having stuck with only one genre.
It's funny, a lot of people responded with this or something like it and I guess I was thinking about it in a totally different way. I do read across genres, but tend to avoid any books that are essentially "light" in tone, that is to say happy, romantic, uplifting, touching or funny (unless we're talking very black humor.) The way I see it, there isn't a whole lot of difference between, say horror, dark fantasy, dystopian SF and Noir. They are all variations on a theme.

So, I'm very curious about some of the recommendations posted here. It would be an interesting mental work out to read something happy, cozy, life affirming or otherwise anti-noir but still really outstanding and well written.
I can't think of anything light off the top of my head that's current (shows where my reading habits have been lately). I did really, really love SKINNY LEGS AND ALL and JITTERBUG PERFUME by Tom Robbins & they were both funny and life-affirming, not to mention well-written. I'll still pick up these books when I need a good laugh.

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