Originally posted by c99ux
Recently I've been reading the following series:
Ian Rankin's John Rebus,
Reginald Hill's Pascoe and Dalziel,
Michael Connely's Harry Bosch.
They are all very entertaining, but I can usually guess what's going to happen next.
Who writes the best crime fiction novels, and why do you think they are better than other writers?
Julian Symons has written some good stuff. The Blackheath Poisonings, and The End of Solomon Grundy, stand out in memory. Symons tends to be more cynical than I prefer but his writing, when good, is so good that I am often prepared to overlook this. Both titles will keep you guessing, and both are exceedingly well constructed.
Henry Cecil is another author of much the same kind as Symons. The Asking Price is rather good, though not at all mysterious.
Robert Wilson's "Instruments of Darkness", the first of his novels involving an expatriate Brit who has set himself up as a kind of consultant/troubleshooter in sub-Saharan Africa, is excellent. The writer has the unfortunate tendency to introduce some tremendously gruesome elements into his work, but, at least in this novel (where that particular plot element tends to stay in the background most of the time) the quality of his writing is so high that I was prepared to overlook this. By quality of writing I mean command of language, power of evocative description, wit, humor, etc.. Very few writers could turn a description of a drunk falling off his barstool into a feast of literary description and wit, but this one managed to. I found myself constantly amused by the one-liners and elegant irony to be found in the first half of the book.
Patrick Quintan wrote an excellent mystery/crime novel called A Puzzle For Fools, which is certainly not predictable, and indeed, contains some surreal and baffling elements (which I seem to recall being nevertheless satisfactorily explained). It takes place in a sanatorium and the narrator/protagonist is a theater director who has voluntarily committed himself to be treated for alcoholism.
Margaret Millar's A Stranger In My Grave is another example of the (realist) surreal crime novel, quite strange, baffling, and largely unpredictable, as well as highly atmospheric.
Eric Ambler's A Coffin For Dimitrios is must-read. (I believe that the title outside the U.S. is The Mask of Dimitrios.) The Levanter is among his better later-period novels. Realism, and superb writing quality are Ambler hallmarks. (Skip his first novel, The Dark Frontier, which is perhaps the single example of unrealistic plotting among his works. With the exception of this title, which I threw away, I've read and enjoyed just about everything he's written. He is also one of the very few practitioners of the "spy novel" whom I can read without cringing.)
Dashiel Hammett has written what are probably the best of the classic noir novels (practically defining the genre which Raymond Chandler later became synonymous with, though generally I consider the latter inferior as a writer). The Maltese Falcon is a silly, boring movie, but an excellent novel.
The best place to find most of these titles is through amazon.com (which also sells used copies at a discount). Used mystery bookstores are the second best option.
You did specify "crime novel" rather than "mystery novel" -- the former term usually suggests a strong degree of realism and noir, so the selections I've suggested reflect that. They are not, however, police procedurals. The titles indicated are among the best of the respective authors, and so constitute the proper introduction through which to determine the appeal of those authors to the reader, but all of them have large bodies of similar work.
There is not a lot of padding in these books. Most of these titles are considerably shorter than most contemporary novels.