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10 of the Best Classic Detective Novels Everyone Should Read

Are these the greatest ever detective novels?

It’s impossible to boil down such a rich and fertile genre as detective fiction to just ten definitive classic novels, so the following list should not be viewed as the ten best detective novels ever written so much as ten classic detective novels to act as great ‘ways in’ to this popular genre of fiction. We’ve tried to allow due coverage to the golden age of detective fiction in the early- to mid-twentieth century, but have also thrown in some earlier, formative classics as well. We’ve avoided spoilers in the summaries of the novels we’ve provided, and have instead chosen to focus on the most curious or interesting aspects of those novels.

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone. T. S. Eliot called Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868) the first and greatest of the detective novels. It wasn’t technically the first – that honour should probably go to Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s The Trail of the Serpent (1860) – but The Moonstone, which focuses on the theft of the titular gemstone, was one of the most popular and influential detective novels of the Victorian era. All of the ingredients are there: the country house, the handful of likely suspects, the seeming impossibility of the crime, and the sleuth in search of the answer (Sergeant Cuff, although the actual investigation of the crime is something of a team effort). Recommended edition:  Read the rest of this entry