Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Old Crime Novels People Are Reading

Here are some goodreads rankings for some older mysteries, the latest published in 1966 (rounding ratings numbers):

still the queen of mystery fiction
published c. 1920 to c. 1990
Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None 152,000 ratings
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles 71,000 ratings
Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep 42,000 ratings
Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon 35,000 ratings
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone 25,000 ratings
Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley 16,000 ratings
Lilian Jackson Braun, The Cat Who Read Backwards 14,000 ratings
P. D. James, Cover Her Face 11,000 ratings (on the other hand, James' latest novel, Death Comes to Pemberley, gets 38,000)
Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night 8000 ratings
Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me, 7000 ratings
Ngaio Marsh, Death in a White Tie 3000 ratings
Ruth Rendell, From Doon with Death 2700 ratings
Ross Macdonald, The Drowning Pool 1700 ratings
Margery Allingham, The Tiger in the Smoke 1300 ratings
John Dickson Carr, The Three Coffins 600 ratings
Ellery Queen, The Roman Hat Mystery 600 ratings

criminal upstarts
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Any surprises here?  A Big Four of Christie, Doyle, Chandler and Hammett is probably not so shocking!  Wilkie Collins' Victorian-era classic comes in next.

Even with an acclaimed film adaptation, Highsmith's Ripley only beats out the grandmother of all cozy cat mysteries by a bit (and Jim Thompson comes far behind it).

Sayers, Marsh and Allingham come far behind Christie, just as Ross Macdonald comes far behind Chandler and Hammett.  The two modern Crime Queens, P. D. James and Ruth Rendell, come in far behind Christie (though James' newest novel, a Jane Austen mystery pastiche, is much higher).

Two male authors of classical detection, John Dickson Carr and Ellery Queen, come in at the bottom of the list.

Of course they all get put in the shade, even dear Agatha, by modern bestsellers like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (857,000 ratings).


  1. Thanks for sharing these ratings, though I'm not surprised at the list of early crime fiction writers people are reading. Most of these authors' books are reviewed more or less constantly in the blog world, and there are a few in the list I haven't read myself.

  2. Lately I've been reading Stuart Palmer's Hildegarde Withers series, and Earl Derr Biggers' Charlie Chan books. In the past months I've also enjoyed some Baroness Orczy and Anna Katharine Green. Agatha is ongoing though I'm almost sad I've read more than there are books left to read. I'm also reading the four Harriet Vane books in the Peter Wimsey series. Love these old books.

    1. Rex Stout, Fer-de-lance 4300 ratings
      Earl Derr Biggers, The House without a Key 365 ratings
      Anna Katharine Green, The Leavenworth Case 325 ratings
      Stuart Palmer, The Penguin Pool Murder 29 ratings

      Looks like Stuart Palmer still has quite a few converts to make, even among readers of old mysteries! I hope more readers like you find him, Nan!

    2. There's a great blog entry you might like to read here:

  3. I found a clipping about Christie's famous disappearance, showing how she might look with different hairstyles and specks (very inept artwork). Did this inspire Ariadne Oliver's experiments with disguise in Third Girl? Christie was always commenting how different a woman could make herself look.

    1. Lucy, I was thinking that same thing when I posted those two pictures--quite a contrast in style between Agatha Christie and Lisbeth Salander! I was imagining Christie gone Goth.

  4. Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time, 9000 ratings. Interesting that this scores higher than Marsh and Allingham and even Sayers' Gaudy Night. On the other hand, my favorite by Tey, The Franchise Affair, gets only 1700.

    Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop, gets 1300, but my favorite by him, The Long Divorce, gets only 145. I'm sensing a pattern here!

  5. I enjoy the ambiance of the Golden Age Era, probably more than the actual mystery. I can re-read Agatha Christie books several times and not remember whodunnit! I really like Carolyn Wells mysteries, too, hokey though they are.

    1. Ah, Carolyn Wells! I need to put together a new blog piece on her.

  6. I find that the members of goodreads and other social websites geared towards reading tend to play follow the leader, no matter what the genre. And of course they are only reading what's immediately available to them in terms of "older mysteries", whether it be a cheap paperback reprint or a digital book. I didn’t think anyone was really hunting down the "unknowns."

    But only last month I stumbled across one goodreads reviewer who seems to be doing what I would never have expected. She sings the praises of Frederick G. Eberhard, whose name I recognized from inclusion in Gun in Cheek. Somehow she managed to locate and read nearly all of his very hard to find books and has written glowing reviews for each. So favorable and enticing are these reviews that I had to buy an Eberhard book and read it for myself. I found a copy of The Skeleton Talks which this woman loved. As much as she was correct about the strange and macabre elements in his book (an overload of the macabre, in fact) she tended to skip over the most obvious factor that made Bill Pronzini label Eberhard a master of the Alternative Mystery: his writing is excruciatingly bad. Laughably bad. And his plots are nonsensical for someone who was supposedly a medical professional. I never finished it. Seriously, it was painful to read.

    So much for goodreads being the go-to site for overlooked mystery novels well worth reading. No wonder a fantastic mystery like The Long Divorce ranks way lower than a book like The Moving Toyshop which has been reviewed by hundreds all over the blogosphere and bookselling sites and is much easier to find, both in print and digital copies.

  7. John,

    I cited that Goodreads reviewer in Clues and Corpses. Todd Downing reviewed an Eberhard novel. Eberhard did indeed have a prestigious medical background.