Friday, October 22, 2010

Bouchercon wrap-up: Connolly and Hughes's 10 crime novels to read before you die

More than ten, actually, because Declan Hughes and John Connolly, the two participants in the #Bcon2010 "Ten Crime Novels You Must Read Before You Die" session, sometimes disagreed which book by their top ten authors was best.

Each also gave an appendix of more novels at session's end, which gave Friday's lunchtime session-goers even more to think about.

1) Heading the list, appropriately so for a convention in San Francisco, was Dashiell Hammett. Hughes chose The Glass Key, Connolly Red Harvest, and Hughes, never a man to be shackled by understatement, called Hammett "the Bach, the Louis Armstrong" of crime fiction. "Everything started with him." I'd say Hughes was right.

2) Where Hammett goes, Raymond Chandler follows. Connolly and Hughes chose The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, if my memory serves me well. "I believe I can tell the level of [Chandler's] drinking by chapter," Hughes said. Added Connolly: "I think Chandler is a great writer and a terrible novelst." Connolly's beef? Chandler's plotting.

3) Up third, Ross Macdonald. For Hughes, "his achievement is unsurpassed." In Macdonald's Lew Archer, Connolly said, "we have the first great Christ figure in the genre."

4) Patricia Highsmith, in whom Connolly "senses a genuinely unpleasant person" and whose novel Deep Water Hughes called "a perverse comedy of manners."

They also cited Ed McBain, "the father of the police procedural"; The Friends of Eddie Coyle; and James Lee Burke ("He had not read much crime fiction," Connolly said. "He comes out of a very different tradition.").

Hughes favorite Margaret Millar made the list, as did Red Dragon (Connolly had much of interest to say about the Hannibal Lecter books) and the surprise of the lot, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Hughes said Christie could say in a few sentences what P.D. James would take three pages to say.

More to come.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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14 Comments:

Blogger Yvette said...

It's funny, I came to Ross MacDonald late (Just in the last few years) and I fell completely under his spell. I love his work more than I do Hammett's or Chandler's. Connolly's comment about Lew Archer is right on the money. I agree with him as well, about Chandler's plotting. For me, his plots lack coherence, though I still enjoy reading him. Besides the two titles mentioned, I also recommend THE HIGH WINDOW. (Made into a terrific film, THE BRASHER DOUBLOON, starring George Montgomery as Marlowe.) I enjoyed Hammett too, but didn't love him.

I've never read Patricia Highsmith, though I've seen the movies. From a couple of pictures I've seen of her though, I'd agree she doesn't look like a bundle of laughs.

Another funny thing: the choice of THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD by Agatha Christie. Not my favorite Christie book. Not one I revere.
Though of course, I'd include a book (or two or three) by her on any list of this sort.

Thanks for reporting on all this, Peter.

October 22, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, Hammett gave crime fiction substance, Chandler gave it style. Speaking for myself I'd rather be Hammett but, hey, what do I know?

October 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're welcome, Yvette. This session was one of the highlights of Bouchercon and a pleasure to write about.

Among other things, John Connolly called Ross Macdonald "a much more finished writer" than Chandler. Declan Hughes has long talked up Macdonald and Margaret Millar at conferences, but this was the first time I'd heard Connolly talk about him. Hughes and Connolly would do well as teachers. They're smart and entertaining, and they think seriously about their subjects. What more could one ask from teachers?

It was quite a shock to hear Christie's name come up. I've read barely any of her work, but it's reassuring that authors like Connolly and Hughes take good writing where they find it, without worrying that it's too cozy or too English or too traditional.

October 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What do you know? Quite a lot, I'd say. That's one of the neater summations of the two-headed crime-fiction pantheon that I've heard.

October 22, 2010  
Blogger Yvette said...

Oh Peter, I say stop qualifying everything and pick up an Agatha. You're missing out on some mighty fine writing. Connolly and Hughes will give you cover. :)

October 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have a feeling more than one person who would not otherwise read Christie will look into her now because of that discussion.

October 22, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I await the complete list before commenting on their taste, but I'm with Connolly on Hammett's best, and on Hammett's ranking as 'Numero Uno'.
I haven't read Christie since my schooldays but 'The Murder of Roger Ackroyd' may have been my first.
I figured it out early on.

I've long been evangelistic about Highsmith's 'Edith's Diary', and, to a lesser extent, 'The Blunderer', which may tend to confirm the accuracy of Connolly's assesment of her.

I don't care for Harris; although I've only read one McBain of the batch I recently bought, - 'Kings Ransom' the source novel of Kurosawa's masterly 'High and Low', I would rank the (first) three Martin Beck mysteries I've read higher than it.

October 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, those named after the top ten included Charles Willeford -- no surprise, as crime writers love his work. Hughes cited Willeford's Miami Blues, one of the Hoke Moseley novels. I'd read at least one other discussion that ranked the Moseley books below Willeford's other work.

Connolly named James Crumley's The Last Good Kiss and read its famous opening sentence, which has always seemed a bit over the top to me. He also mentioned Dorothy L. Sayers' Nine Tailors during the Christie discussion.

Connolly is apparently a careful student of Harris, calling the first three Lecter books a single story and invoking romantic comedy in the discussion.

Sjowall and Wahloo came up at least once during Bouchercon, though I don't think it was in the Connolly-Hughes discussion. Connolly did invoke Scandinavian crime writing in a way that deserves a post of its own and may get one.

October 22, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I love 'Miami Blues', too, Peter: there was a great little film made of it starring Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Fred Ward
Did Willeford also write 'Cockfighter'?
(the great Warren Oates starred in the film version)

So, no Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Georges Simenon, or Chester Himes?

October 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, Cockfighter was Willeford, too.

I don't remember if Thompson or Simenon was on the list, but they as well as Himes came up during other Bouchercon discussions. To be fair to Connolly and Hughes, it's awfully difficuly to narrow one's choices to ten (or twelve of fifteen), and it's hard to argue with the books and authors they included.

October 22, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I suppose its good that there isn't a concensus about the Top 10 crime-writers.

Peter, off topic, what did your paper's film reviewer think of 'The Social Network'
After all of the raves by reviewers here I've just checked it out and was more than a little underwhelmed.
I strongly suspect the Facebook phenomenon, and its influence and topicality, might have influenced reviwer's judgments.

October 22, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's good that there's little consensus. Even where there is near-unanimity, as in the cases of Chandler and Hammett, Hughes and Connolly had interesting things to say.

I can't say I've read any reviews of "The Social Ntwork" because I have little or no interest in the subject. Maybe I could seek a response on Twitter.

October 23, 2010  
Blogger shagen said...

Don't forget about the living legend, the grand master, Mr. Elmore Leonard. Eighty-five years young this month and a new pirate novel out the day after his birthday name a Djibouti. Crime genre buffs need to check him out. Long considered his best is something called Swag. Others may enjoy George V. Higgins' stuff. He's in the queue if I ever get my hands on one a his, probably The Friends of Eddie Coyle, considered his best.
Cheers

October 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Shagen, Leonard got a mention during the Higgins discussion and at other times guring Bouchercon. Quite a number of authors look up to him.

October 23, 2010  

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