9 classic detective stories
1. Last Ditch. Ngaio Marsh
Ricky Alleyn – perhaps you know his father, Roderick? – first appeared in Spinsters in Jeopardy, as a child. He’s now 21, and has taken himself off to a secluded island to write a novel. Or think about writing a novel. Or look for distractions so he can avoid writing a novel. The distractions abound, mostly in the form of colorful local characters (and a rather dishy one), so all is beer and skittles (well, except for the novel) until Ricky stumbles across a murder and then gets himself kidnapped. Which is too bad for Ricky (and the murder-victim), but dandy for the reader, as it brings Inspector Alleyn to the island, and he’s on top form. A subtheme involving drug-running may strike a jarring note, but remember, Last Ditch was first published in 1977, and as such, it offers a remarkable look at what happens when the characters and conventions of the Golden Age fetch up in the distinctly tarnished present.
2. Shroud for a Nightingale. P. D. James
The young women of Nightingale House are there to learn to nurse and comfort the suffering. But when one of the students plays patient in a demonstration of nursing skills, she is horribly, brutally killed. Another student dies equally mysteriously, and it is up to Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard to unmask a killer who has decided to prescribe murder as the cure for all ills.
3. That Yew Tree’s Shade. Cyril Hare
The Yew Tree’s Shade – originally published in 1954 – is a Frances Pettigrew mystery, and was published in the US as Death Walks the Woods. Francis Pettigrew, a former barrister and sometimes amateur detective, is plucked out of what promises to be a peaceful retirement in the Home Counties to deputise for the County Court judge. The proceedings offer him some unexpected insights into the lives of the new neighbours that he has – until now – only observed through his field glasses. When the body of a penniless widow known for her good works is found on Yew Hill, a famous local beauty spot, Pettigrew is drawn into the case as a witness. Despite his best efforts to leave the inquiry to the police, it is he, with the unconscious help of a teenage boy, who puts the finishing touches on the solution. ‘Cyril Hare’s style is easy and fluent, and his books are eminently readable … A great novelist.’ Spectator
4. The Black Moth. Georgette Heyer
Clad in his customary black and silver, with raven hair unpowdered and elaborately dressed, diamonds on his fingers and in his cravat, Hugh Tracy Clare Belmanoir, Duke of Andover, sat at the escritoire in the library of his town house, writing. He wore no rouge on his face, the almost unnatural pallor of which seemed designedly enhanced by a patch set beneath his right eye. Brows and lashes were black, the former slanting slightly up at the corners, but his narrow, heavy-lidded eyes were green and strangely piercing. The thin lips curled a little, sneering, as one dead-white hand travelled to and fro across the paper.
5. The Case Is Closed. Patricia Wentworth
Marion Grey is growing used to the idea that her husband will never leave prison. After the horrors of a very public trial she’s almost able to find relief in her resignation. But when new evidence suggests her husband may be innocent after all, she hires a professional—Miss Maud Silver—to clear his name.
It begins with a chance encounter on a busy train, when a friend of Marion’s meets a half-mad woman who claims to know something of the Grey case. With her is a man who disappeared during the trial—and may have information that could set Marion’s husband free. But who is he, and where has he gone? To find out, demure governess-turned-detective Miss Silver must track him down before becoming a victim herself.
6. The Cuckoo’s Calling. Robert Galbraith
After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.
Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, thelegendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.
You may think you know detectives, but you’ve never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you’ve never seen them under an investigation like this.
7. The Mad Hatter Mystery. John Dickson Carr
The newspapers dubbed the thief the ‘Mad Hatter,’ and his outrageous pranks amused all London. but the laughter turned to horror when a corpse with a crossbow through the heart was found at the Tower of London in a top hat. As Dr. Gideon Fell was to discover, the whole case turned on the matter of hats— in fact, threatened to become a nightmare of hats.
8. The Red House Mystery. A.A. Milne
Far from the gentle slopes of the “Hundred Acre Wood” lies The Red House”, the setting for A.A Milne’s only detective story, where secret passages, uninvited guests, a sinister valet and a puzzling murder lay the foundations for a classic crime caper. And when the local police prove baffled, it is up to a guest at a local inn to appoint himself ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and, together with his friend and loyal ‘Watson’, delve deeper into the mysteries of the dead man. “The Red House Mystery” is a lost gem from a time before Tigger and a perfectly crafted whodunit with witty dialogue, deft plotting and a most curious cast of characters.
9. The Woman In White. Wilkie Collins
Walter Hartright’s contemplations on the lonely, moonlit road are rudely broken by the nameless and distressed woman in white. The encounter is to change his life, for she is at the centre of villainous machinations which are profoundly to affect him – and those he loves.
Through carefully constracted characterization, intricate plotting and masterly skill in concealing and revealing secrets, Wilkie Collins has created one of the greatest mystery thrillers in the English language.