Typically I count down the top twenty crime novels annually blogged here, but in past years I have reviewed over 100 such books annually on the blog, while this year, busy as I have been with other projects, I probably only achieved about half that. Plus, 2015 is fast ebbing. So I'm doing just ten this year. So, let us begin with #'s 10-6. I'm leaving out of consideration books I have written introductions for and discussed on the blog this year (quite a few), but they are of course recommended to vintage crime fiction fans.
Meet Me at the Morgue (1953), by Ross Macdonald (reviewed 29 August)
In this, Ross Macdonald's centenary year, there has perhaps been a tendency to undervalue the author's Fifties crime writing in favor of his Sixties work. However, the author produced some excellent work in this earlier decade. Macdonald later disparaged the novel in a letter to Eudora Welty, but at the time of its publication he had seemed rather pleased with Meet Me at the Morgue, a dexterously-plotted tale that signaled an early, notable move by the author away from the Chandler-Hammett tough school of hard-boiled mystery toward a more humanistic vision. The younger Macdonald was right to feel so.
#9 The Player on the Other Side (1963), by Ellery Queen (reviewed 10 November)
The sleuth Ellery Queen returned in novel form after a five year hiatus in The Player on the Other Side, in one of his most interesting performances. Here the author devised a deliberately artificial tale about members of a wealthy New York family being bumped off one by one, with an ingenious variation on a favored gambit. Here sleuth Ellery encounters, as he so fervently desires, a murderous opponent truly worthy of his mettle.
The Grindle Nightmare (1935), by Q. Patrick (reviewed 28 November)
A notable Thirties fictional excursion into the dark criminal bypaths of horrific sadistic violence, The Grindle Nightmare, by Richard Wilson Webb (probably with some collaboration from his young living partner and future full time fictional collaborator, Hugh Callingham Wheeler), at times feels like a precursor to certain critically-lauded sicko suburbia novels by Patricia Highsmith. But don't worry, fainthearted readers, the whole thing is properly intellectualized as a formal problem detective novel, in fine Golden Age tradition.
#7 Wisteria Cottage (1948), by Robert M. Coates (reviewed 11 January)
If Violence peaked out at us from behind a curtain in The Grindle Nightmare, in Robert M. Coates's Wisteria Cottage it rips away the curtain and pursues the reader with a bloody butcher's knife. This dark novel about the descent into madness of a dangerously disturbed young man is a deeply unsettling novel, even in 2015, and it reminds us that mid-century "domestic suspense" was not entirely the demesne of women crime writers. Stir in as well some of Jim Thompson's hell's broth and you get Wisteria Cottage.
A Sight for Sore Eyes (1998), by Ruth Rendell (reviewed 13 December)
The late and much missed modern mistress of psychological suspense, Ruth Rendell, produced one of her finest essays in the art of unease with A Sight for Sore Eyes. Ultimately less cold and clinically bleak than Wisteria Cottage, the novel nonetheless boasts a memorably creepy climax and is, like all the best Rendell, compulsively readable throughout its considerable length.
RIP Ruth Rendell. Happily for Rendell's readers her fine work lives on after her, to be read and reread.
Numbers 5 to 1 are coming soon!