My Top Ten Detective Fiction

Tiger in the Smoke – Margery Allingham

Possibly the most atmospheric and evocative of the Golden Age crime novels; rivalled maybe by Sayers’ The Nine Taylors. In and out of the back streets of London, in and out of a killer’s head, this is a novel full of macabre suspense.

ABC Murders – Agatha Christie

I picked this as a perfect example of vintage Christie. Utterly enjoyable example of Poirot, and Christie, at the top of their game.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie

In 2008 my boyfriend and I took the train across Europe to Istanbul, stopping in France, Hungary and Bulgaria – the route of the original Orient Express. My enthusiasm for the romance of international European train travel was originally fired by Agatha Christie and this was a dream come true.

A Blunt Instrument – Georgette Heyer

Critical opinion of Georgette Heyer’s crime writing is tempered both by the fact that she was a contemporary of the four greatest classic detective novelists the world has ever seen (Allingham, Christie, Marsh and Sayers), and that she was better known for her historical fiction. Which is unfair really, because her crime novels are intriguingly well plotted with the same humorous touch which makes her Regency work so enjoyable. This is a good example.

Death at the President’s Lodging – Michael Innes

The ultimate example of treating murder as an intellectual game. An Oxbridge college inaccessible to the outside world, a murdered President, a collection of grisly bones and eccentric dons – great fun.

Shroud for a Nightingale – PD James

One of only two post 1950 novels to make it onto my list. Again, it could be almost any PD James Dalgliesh novel here, but plot, setting and characterisation combine particularly successfully in this to give it the edge for me.

Death in a White Tie – Ngaio Marsh

One of the conventions of classic detective fiction is that you are not particularly moved by the death of the victim – either they are an unsympathetic character or a largely unknown one. This is considered necessary to preserve the purely intellectual, puzzle-solving element of the genre. Ngaio Marsh breaks that rule in this novel, but it is more than justified by the results.

Thrones, Dominations – Jill Paton Walsh and Dorothy L Sayers

Controversial! I’m not normally a big fan of modern writers producing sequels to classics, but this one really, really works. It is impossible to tell where Sayers ends and Paton Walsh begins, and it’s a genuinely brilliant detective novel in its own right as well as an emotionally satisfying ‘what happened next’ to Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. The two follow on follow-ons – A Presumption of Death and The Attenbury Emeralds are fabulous too.

Gaudy Night – Dorothy L Sayers

Another rule-breaker – there’s no murder in this one. But it’s still a brilliantly plotted mystery, and the depiction of Oxford is sublime. I read this at 13 and decided I wanted to go to Oxford, eventually did, and met my husband and a lot of very good friends there, so in some ways more than any other, this book has changed my life.

The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey

Another really hard choice was which Josephine Tey to include. They’re all total gems. This is probably her most famous work – a modern detective trying to solve the mystery of Richard III and the Princes in the Tower. Inspired me with a fascination for this period of history, and a slightly bizarre crush on a medieval king which was only enhanced by seeing the RSC’s 1998 production of Shakespeare’s Richard III.

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