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What Is The BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER!!?

May 11, 2020

I hope I didn’t give the answer away with this picture.

There are a lot of good reasons to read a mystery novel.  The books are usually short, and they’re almost always self-contained.  Most mysteries follow a formula that the audience is comfortable with.  Plus, most mysteries deal with murder, and nothing is more interesting than a good murder, as long as it doesn’t involve you or anybody you know.

Figuring out the BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER!! should be difficult because so many mysteries are so similar and everybody’s BEST EVER!! criteria is different.  Despite various sub-genres (the whodunit, the hardboiled, the “think like a killer to catch a killer”), once you’ve read a couple within each category, you’ve read them all.

A BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER!! should be a unique book.  It should combine all elements (except for the “think like a killer to catch a killer” because most of those suck).  It should be both a hardboiled detective story and a whodunit.  It should be so good that it can’t be copied (though it might have been tried).  And that book is The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett.

Here are three reasons why The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett is the BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER!!

1.   NICK AND NORA

The Thin Man has Nick and Nora Charles.  Some mystery fans think of Nick and Nora as the first husband-and-wife detective duo, but it’s not quite like that in the book.  Maybe by 1930s standards, Nora was considered part of the sleuthing team, but by today’s criteria, she is just kind of a nuisance at times.  At least she had the right to vote.

Still, the male-female aspect to sleuthing has been copied many times (or perhaps done better as an actual male-female detective duo).  Nick and Nora (deservedly or not) are considered the first.  I understand the movie plays on this a little more than the book does, but I’ll still use this as a reason.

2.   HARDBOILED SARCASM

The sarcasm in this book makes it stand out a lot.  The Thin Man was written almost 100 years ago, but with its heavy sarcasm, it feels like it came out much more recently than that.  The dialogue in the book is so good, that almost entire scenes were used in the movie version of The Thin Man.

Every script writer should read this novel (alright, maybe that’s a little presumptuous on my part), just to see how dialogue should be written.  Scenes with four or five characters are easy to follow.  Even scenes with long paragraphs of dialogue exposition have one-liners that make it dangerous to skim because you might miss something.

3.   IT’S THE ONLY ONE

Once you’re done reading The Thin Man, that’s it.  There are no other Nick Charles mysteries.  Yeah, you have the movie sequels, but they don’t count.  Yeah, I think The Thin Man movie is better than the book in some ways, but I still like the book a lot, enough to think it’s the BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER!!

DISCLAIMER

The Thin Man is far from being a perfect book.  There is a lot of exposition through dialogue (that bugs other readers more than it bugs me because I love the dialogue).  Since the reader never feels like Nick or Nora’s lives are in danger, the book isn’t very suspenseful.  There are also a couple scenes that don’t seem to belong in the book (you’ll probably know them when you read them).

But The Thin Man is so great in other areas that its strengths far overwhelm its weaknesses.  I could be biased because of the movie.  I think The Thin Man is almost a perfect movie for its time.  Maybe my love for the movie makes me think more fondly of the book than it deserves.  Maybe.

MYSTERIES THAT AREN’T QUITE BEST EVER!

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie-

Readers who know a lot more about the genre might consider this one as BEST EVER!  It’s probably more famous than The Thin Man, and it’s considered the ultimate whodunit (or is Death on the Nile considered the ultimate whodunit?).

Maybe with Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie wrote the BEST MURDER MYSTERY SERIES EVER (if you call it a series), but once you’re done with one book, there are more to read, and in some ways they are interchangeable.

A Study in Scarlet– by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

How could this NOT be the BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER?  It’s SHERLOCK flippin’ HOLMES!!  The greatest detective of all time in his first and maybe greatest novel of all.  Plus, the guy who played Iron Man plays Sherlock Holmes.  The guy who played Iron Man will never play Nick Charles (though I’d rather see him do it than Johnny Depp).

Sherlock Holmes may be the BEST FICTIONAL DETECTIVE EVER!!, but none of the novels stand out enough to be the BEST EVER.  There’s only one Nick Charles novel, and there are a bunch of Sherlock Holmes stories.  And again, if you don’t think that’s a good standard in which to judge BEST MYSTERY EVER!!, I understand.  I get it.

I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane-

Mickey Spillane could churn out novels in a way that John Sandford and Janet Evanovich can only dream about, and I, the Jury is the most famous one.  Again, once you’ve read a few Mickey Spillane novels, you’ve read most of them.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris-

I’m almost joking about this, but not quite.  This is a novel that benefited a lot from its movie.  The Silence of the Lambs inspired countless novels and movies about female protagonists hunting and getting hunted by serial killers.  The novel itself isn’t BEST EVER!!, but it’s probably the most influential serial killer mystery of the last couple generations.

*****

Alright, enough about my opinions!  What book do you think is the BEST MYSTERY NOVEL EVER!!?

2 Comments
  1. About Silence With the Lambs, I believe MANHUNTER was the better movie. However, how do the THIN MAN movies compare with the original story? I note that Jason Bourne movie stories were superior to the book, and certainly some of the James Bond stories were better than the books.

    • The Thin Man sequels are okay, but they’re not nearly as good as The Thin Man. Like I said, there can only be one The Thin Man.

      And I agree, the movie Manhunter is good, but it’s so different from Silence of the Lambs that it’s tough for me to think of them as connected… but I know they are.

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