Murder by the Book...
A Killer reading list

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone foreshadowed many classic tropes of the twentieth-century detective novel: clues and red herrings; suspects and twists; investigations and reconstructions; and even an English country house. Moreover, it established the ethos of the genre: ingenuity; a fair, skilfully devised puzzle; and a deft shifting of suspicion.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

An understanding of criminal psychology features significantly in Charles Dickens’s work. Inspector Bucket is the first police detective in English fiction; methodical and compassionate, he became a model for later professionals.

Trent’s Last Case by E.C. Bentley

The likeable, self-deprecating detective Philip Trent is an antidote to what Bentley saw as the egotism and needless eccentricity of Sherlock Holmes. The book refreshed tired conventions (unpleasant victim, least likely suspect), ushering in a new era of competition between authors and readers to reach the solution.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

A preoccupation with injustice distinguishes Tey’s work. In her most famous book, she creates the ultimate armchair detective by confining Inspector Alan Grant to a hospital bed. While there, he reinvestigates the murder of the Princes in the Tower, inspired by a portrait of Richard III that bears no resemblance to the villain of history.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

The brutality and darkness of this novel spring from its bleak, barren setting. The terrifying isolation of Dartmoor is palpable, encouraging our belief in a vengeful supernatural world. And while Holmes gets to the truth, the instrument of justice is ultimately the setting itself.

The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

Allingham’s beautifully evoked fog-bound London is a character in itself, synonymous with the sense of evil that seeps from the pages of this chilling novel. A psychological thriller rather than a classic whodunnit, the battle between good and evil, between a ruthless psychopath and a saintly vicar, is symbolically played out in the genteel squares and dark alleyways of England’s post-war capital.

silhouette of hand with red background

Photo by Ari Spada on Unsplash

Photo by Ari Spada on Unsplash

The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne

Milne’s book - a country house, locked room mystery - helped establish the conventions of British detective fiction between the wars. Its immense popularity testified to a reader’s preference for charm over plausibility.

The Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham

A tranquil English village, the death of a spinster - this could be fifty years earlier were it not for the wry self-awareness and barbed humour that are sometimes lost in the TV world of Midsomer. Dedicated to crime novelist Christianna Brand, Graham’s debut established her as a successor to Brand’s impeccable plotting, sharp observation, and a touch of the macabre.

The Man in the Queue by Gordon Daviot (Josephine Tey)

The first detective novel by the writer better known as Josephine Tey shows all the daring and originality for which she’s admired, especially by other writers. It introduced Alan Grant, one of the earliest credible police inspectors. Tey, however, refused to be constrained by his popularity: he is absent from some of her finest books, and in one even appears on the wrong side of justice.

Cover Her Face by P.D. James

P.D. James’s most famous detective, Adam Dalgliesh, took his surname from her English teacher at Cambridge High School. A poet whose wife and son died in childbirth, he was given the qualities that James admired most: intelligence, courage, sensitivity, and reticence.

From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendall

According to his creator, DCI Reg Wexford was ‘born at the age of 52’ and was ‘a man because like most women I am…still caught up in the web that one writes about men because men are the people and we are the others.’ Amiable and happily married, Wexford is a strong counterpoint to the disturbed and despairing characters who people Rendell’s books.

Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter

Dexter created Inspector Morse on a rainy holiday in Wales; by the time the series ended 25 years later, he had refashioned the traditional mystery. Morse’s idiosyncrasies are legendary but strip away music, crosswords, beer, and the car, and you’re left with a human mix of bluster, vulnerability, romance, and cynicism. In his superintendent’s words, an ‘extraordinary and exasperating man’.

A Pin to See the Peep Show by F. Tennyson Jesse

Inspired by the real-life conviction and execution of Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters in 1923, Jesse’s haunting masterpiece centres on Julia Almond, whose punishment is vastly out of proportion to her crime. The novel symbolises the class and gender discrimination rife in 1920s Britain. The hours leading up to Julia’s execution, sedated and scarcely human, are amongst the most horrific in all of crime fiction

The Glass Pearls by Emeric Pressburger

Few writers have gone further to put themselves in uncomfortable shoes than filmmaker Emeric Pressburger. A Jew who was forced to flee Berlin when Hitler took power, his mother, and several other relatives died in the Holocaust. In this harrowing, fearless novel, he writes from the perspective of a Nazi war criminal, dissecting guilt and paranoia in a way that’s chilling and utterly convincing.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

Dickens died when Edwin Drood was unfinished and left no indication of how he would have completed the story, thereby providing the ultimate - unsolvable - narrative twist. Ian Ousby calls this cover ‘the biggest clue of all’ to Dickens’s intentions; it includes several scenes that do not appear in the completed half of the book, prompting much speculation of what was to come.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

In Roger Ackroyd, Christie tore up the rule book and made anything possible. Its breathtaking twist divided readers, labelled ‘a rotten, unfair trick’ or ‘a brilliant psychological tour-de-force’. There’s nothing unfair in the plotting: everything the culprit says is true and the whole solution resides in one, apparently banal, sentence.

The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley

When Joan Bendrix is poisoned by a box of chocolates, the amateur sleuths of the ‘Crimes Circle’ offer six possibilities as to who sent it. The most famous novel by a founder of the Detection Club is perhaps unique in crime fiction for having multiple solutions by different authors. Alternatives to Berkeley’s reveal were published by Christianna Brand in 1979 and by Martin Edwards in 2016

silhouette of hand with red background

Photo by Ari Spada on Unsplash

Photo by Ari Spada on Unsplash