The most influential crime novel ever?

I’m giving a talk on ‘Ten Great Crime Novels’ with a look at the stories behind the stories.

I want to include the ten most influential and important crime novels, as opposed to a best-selling list (so no Dragon or Dan Brown).

In your view, what one book MUST be on the list?

For the purpose of this post please ignore the obscure gem that you keep going back to. Think classic!

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Comment by Linton Robinson on February 15, 2013 at 9:06am

I know that "Rue Morgue" was published in 1841, but I've always thought that Twain's "Puddinhead Wilson", published 1894, doesn't get enough credit.  It's a very modern detective story in many ways, with it's eccentric hero... and pioneering use of fingerprints.

Twain was a lot more influential on fiction in general than many think.  He invented several sub-genres and tropes.

Comment by John Baird on February 15, 2013 at 8:41am

Martin, well done. It's on the list. Without Dupin there would be no Holmes. And it's the first locked-room mystery.


Comment by Martin Roy Hill on February 15, 2013 at 6:50am

It's not novel length, but Edgar Allan Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" is recognized as the first detective story, and was a direct influence on subsequent crime writers.

Comment by John Baird on February 14, 2013 at 2:10am

Thanks for all the comments, some great suggestions. Jim Thompson, Lawrence Block and Elmore Leonard are all knocking on the door of the top ten.

Comment by J. E. Seymour on February 14, 2013 at 1:19am

The Killer Inside Me - Jim Thompson

When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes - Lawrence Block

Get Shorty or Tishimingo Blues - Elmore Leonard

The Ax - Donald Westlake or Dancing Aztecs which is one of the funniest books I have ever read

Early Autumn or Catskill Eagle - Robert Parker  (some debate on which is the best Spenser novel, but you can't a list of the best crime novels without a Spenser.)

A Dark-Adapted Eye - Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell)

So many more, can't think of them right now!

Comment by Jed Power on February 13, 2013 at 8:18am

 Don't know which one must be on the your list, but my list of "Ten Great Crime Novels" is:

!. The Postman Always Rings Twice--James Cain

2. The Far Cry--Fredric Brown

3. Shoot the Piano Player--David Goodis

4. Street of No Return--David Goodis

5. Web of Murder--Harry Whittington

6. I Wake Up Screaming--Steve Fisher

7. Big Time--Marcel Montecino

8. To Have and Have Not--Ernest Hemingway

9. Clockers--Richard Price

10. King of the Hustlers--Eugene Izzi

Comment by John McFetridge on February 13, 2013 at 3:59am

Yes, some unusual choices. But "influential" often means unusual, doesn't it? What's that joke about the Velvet Underground, they only sold 2000 albums but everybody who bought one started a band... ;)


Comment by John Baird on February 13, 2013 at 3:11am

Cheers, John. I have read this book. Not sure about 'almost pulling any 10'. Quite a few rare ones and unusual choices on there.

Comment by John McFetridge on February 13, 2013 at 12:36am

You could almost pull any ten out this book:


Comment by John Baird on February 12, 2013 at 11:28pm

James M Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice is already on the list but Double Indemnity is a good call. I love the tautness of TPART. It was edited down from 110,000 words to just 35,000. Classic Nior.

Agatha Christie is an interesting one, like Chandler it's difficult to pick one book. Murder On The Orient Express being the most famous. I'll have a look at Ten Little Indians.

Conan Doyle is there. Your pick The hound of the Baskervilles being somewhat of a comeback. Didn't he bring back Sherlock for this novel, after having killed him off?



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