When I was little, mystery books were my favorite. I read the Boxcar Children, the Bobbsey Twins and the Happy Hollisters. In school, there was Cam Jansen, Sammy Keyes and Harriet the Spy. When I visited my grandparents, I read my mom’s childhood books: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden. My mom gives my grandfather the latest Mary Higgins Clark release every Christmas.
In high school and college I abandoned mystery novels and turned to spooky TV shows instead. My family was “Monk”-obsessed; when “Monk”ended, we watched “Psych.” I threw myself into “Lost” during finals and “Criminal Minds” on school breaks. Post-college, I binged “Fringe,” “The X-Files,” “The Killing,” “The Fall,” “Miss Fisher’s Mysteries”—the list goes on. Now that I work in a bookstore, I’ve started to read mystery novels again. To celebrate, here’s a reading list about fictional detectives and the authors who mastermind their literary crime-solving, as well as real-life detectives searching for the truth.
1. “My Cancelled Detectives.” (Patti Smith, The New Yorker, August 2016)
Patti Smith’s memoir M Train debuted last year. It’s one of my favorite books. The paperback edition dropped last week, and it contains—gasp—new material, which means I’m going to put it on my Christmas list. One of my favorite parts of M Train is Smith’s unabashed admiration for detective shows, like “Luther”and especially “The Killing.” In the postscript for the paperback, she describes how her brief cameo in the fourth and final season of “The Killing” came to be.
2. “Women are Writing the Best Crime Novels.” (Terrence Rafferty, The Atlantic, August 2016)
Who runs the world? Gone Girl. This essay isn’t without its flaws, but it does an excellent job tracking the evolution of the genre, focusing especially on today’s popular psychological dramas:
In the golden age, they’d achieve it by furnishing their cozy murder scenes with too many suspects and too many physical clues—the bickering relatives, the shady servants, the cigar ashes, the restaurant matchbooks, the stopped clocks. Now the effect is managed with language alone. In the dizzying verbal performances of the new-style thrillers, every sentence can be a clue or a red herring.
3. “The Murder House.” (Jeff Maysh, Medium, December 2015)
Dana Scully and Jillian Holtzmann flank my desk; I do enjoy a good paranormal mystery. Eschewing mere Internet speculation, reporter Jeff Maysh delves into the Los Angeles Archives and Records Center and does some real detective work. What triggered the grisly violence at 2475 Glendower Place that fateful night in December?
4. “Campus Security vs. The Million-Dollar Map Thief.” (Michael Blanding, Narratively, November 2014)
When a jolly socialite loses his wealth, he turns to larceny to make ends meet. Yale University librarians and local police team up to take down E. Forbes Smiley III and his X-ACTO knife.
5. “Our Incorruptible Dead Girls.” (Stassa Edwards, The Awl, August 2015)
On Friday, graphic novelist Molly Ostertag blasted the lazy trope of murdered woman as a plot device. Her timely comments reminded me of Stassa Edwards’ piece from a year ago. It is telling that many of the nonfiction stories I included in this list begin with a woman murdered, and I’m grateful to Ostertag, Edwards and other voices for calling out this fetishization.