Twenty-One Private Eye Classics

From The Reader’s Guide to the Private Eye Novel  by Gary Warren Niebuhr

Compiled by Gary Warren Niebuhr, one of the true experts in the genre and a guy at least as obsessed as I am about all things P.I., The Reader’s Guide to the Private Eye Novel (1993), is a whopper of a book, and an absolutely essential reference to the genre.

It offers entries on over a thousand titles by more than 90 authors and more lists than I can list, including series characters, authors, settings and locations and possibly best of all, a list of what he considers a list of twenty-one the “Classic Recommended Titles.”

2 thoughts on “Twenty-One Private Eye Classics

  1. Thanks Kevin. It’s a very personal list isn’t it? Three by Hammett, two by Collins, four by Chandler, zero by Robert B. Parker? It almost seems like he’s trying to start an argument.

    1. It’s Gary’s list, not mine. But of course it’s personal. That’s what makes it interesting.

      Maybe Gary was part of the Anti-Parker Conspiracy, or maybe he just didn’t rank Parker as highly as we good-looking Kevins do.

      But sometime after Parker won the Edgar for Promised Land, I felt there was a noticeable backlash against him by some of his “fellow” private eye writers, mostly writers who’d been around just a little longer and hadn’t quite achieved his level of success. Partly it was probably due to Parker’s outspokenness (he did enjoy ruffling feathers), and maybe it was simply professional jealousy, but he stopped getting nominated for awards and, what bothered me more, were the potshots taken at Parker and Spenser by some members of the PWA in public comments and even in their novels that had started to pop up. I don’t know. Maybe he peed in the punchbowl at a Shamus dinner or something…

      Anyway, the cold shoulder lingered until about the mid-nineties (even as Parker’s books flew off the shelves), but by then the stains had set. A lot of the more dismissive critiques of Parker’s work, even now, seem to be word-for-word recaps of what they were saying almost fifty years ago–often by people who obviously have never read him since (or ever), or missed completely the point of what Parker was doing (and had done).

      Also included in Gary’s book is a list of “Highly Recommended Titles,” which has 79 other titles (with the 21 classics, that makes for an even hundred), including two by Parker (Promised Land and… Poodle Springs?). Eventually I’ll add the complete list to the site, I guess.

      Because, honestly? With curated lists like these, by people I respect, it’s always the outliers that interest me most (I’m still surprised he ranks Peter Cheyney so highly). I just wish Gary, a sharp reader and a great guy who knows how many beans make five, had explained some of his choices. There’s plenty of other fascinating stuff in the book for P.I. geeks like me, but the 1000 or so capsule reviews are, disappointingly, just synopses.

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