Top Ten Crime Novels with a Puzzle

Top Ten Crime Novels with a Puzzle

Top Ten Crime Novels with a Puzzle

You wouldn’t buy a fresh copy of the newspaper so you could fill out the same crossword puzzle or Sudoku a second time nor watch an episode of “Jeopardy!” that you’ve seen before. And it might seem equally eccentric to re-read a mystery novel, especially if you read it so recently that you still clearly remember the solution to the mystery.

But with the best of them, it’s not just the puzzle and the solution that make the books worth reading: at least equally compelling are the interactions of the idiosyncratic characters with each other and with the unique worlds in which they live, and I go back to my favorites over and over again.

Here are ten that I’ve read at least half a dozen times each:

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Angel’s Flight, by Michael Connelly. Michael Connelly immerses you in a Los Angeles that is probably the real one, but with much more variety and peril than you ever noticed on your own. And somehow he knows more about the inner workings of the LAPD than anyone not actually on the force. The escalating suspense of this book is a live wire; it shocks you every time you touch it.

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Forfeit, by Dick Francis. Francis knew the world of British horse racing from the inside—the jockeys, the trainers, the racing press—and you don’t so much read his books as experience them along with his characters. Even on the third reading, you’ll be staying up late to watch James Tyrone’s desperately clever maneuvers in outwitting the villains who mean to destroy every aspect of his life.

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The Lady in the Lake, by Raymond Chandler. About his Los Angeles private detective character Philip Marlowe, Chandler wrote, “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.” Marlowe is a person you simply love to watch dealing with the weird people in his world, and his world—Los Angeles in the days of World War II—is so vivid and fascinating that you feel as if you got there in a time machine…and luckily, you can pick the book up and go back again any time you like.

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The Xanadu Talisman, by Peter O’Donnell. Starting with Modesty Blaise trapped under a collapsed hotel in an earthquake, this book becomes deeper and more fascinating with every chapter. Modesty got into the most extravagant adventures, but O’Donnell made you believe every eccentric character and every exotic locale, and the action and drama are even more enjoyable when you know what’s coming next.

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré. I was halfway through reading this for the first time when I carelessly read the first page of its sequel, which gave away the identity of the covert villain in Tinker, Tailor. That didn’t slow me down a bit, though. The world of George Smiley and the ramshackle British Secret Service, and all the marvelously duplicitous characters, were so fascinating that I didn’t care that I now knew the solution to the mystery.

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Mr. Paradise by Elmore Leonard. Maybe Detroit really is as colorfully lethal as this and as filled with sociopathic killers pursuing idiotic murderous schemes. Not a place I want to visit in person, but I love to renew my acquaintance with it via this book.

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Innocence, by Dean Koontz. The eerie mysteries of this book, and the natures and histories of the characters, unfold so powerfully, even transcendently, that re-reading it is like listening to a Beethoven symphony again.Top Ten Crime Novels with a Puzzle

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A Deadly Shade of Gold, by John D. MacDonald. This one takes Travis McGee to New York, Los Angeles, and a small seaport in Mexico, and every scene is one you look forward to reading again. Travis McGee’s world of boats, dubious antique dealers, wealthy eccentrics, and sympathetic assassins is so immersive that reading it only once would be like visiting a fascinating city only once.

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The Anti-Death League, by Kingsley Amis. A convincing and often funny tour of a secret British military operation, in which the emotional action is as arresting as the physical action, and the villain—and the revelation of him and his intentions—pale beside the complex interactions of Amis’s deeply sympathetic characters. I never tire of spending time with them again.

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The Choirboys, by Joseph Wambaugh. I’m sure the LAPD of the 1970s could not have been like this, but Wambaugh makes you believe it completely as you read. The horrifying adventures of these officers are, I’m afraid, more hilarious every time I re-read the book.

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The Silence of the Lambs, by Robert Harris. The literally arm’s-length but electric relationship between rookie FBI agent Clarise Starling and serial killer Hannibal Lecter is so adversarial and yet oddMedusa's Web by Tim Powersly intimate that experiencing it only once would be to miss most of it. The pursuit of the killer almost becomes a secondary interest.

 

 

Top Ten Crime Novels with a Puzzle is the first blog post of Tim Powers, be sure to check out his latest book…

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