Yes, you read that right; this is my new project. Lots of people can tell you which 100, or 1000, or one million for that matter, mysteries to read before you die. I, on the other hand, have spent my life shovelling down mysteries that rightly should be beneath your notice, just so I can spare you by failing to recommend them. I am uniquely qualified to pontificate on which mysteries you should most sedulously avoid, and my biggest problem is going to be keeping it to a mere 100 mystery novels that you should die before you read.
I have to say that you, Dear Reader, brought this upon yourself. It is amply clear to me from the statistics of this blog that you like me best and pass me around the most when I am bitchy and crabby, unpleasant, hard to please and acidulous. When I actually like something disliked by most, such as when I sat through the one-starred Battleship and found things upon which to favourably comment, you are uniform in your disdain. In short,you’ve come for the bitch and I have to say it is not a terrible strain to try to engage you in that way.
It occurs to me, though, that even deliberate cruelty should have boundaries. Although it can occasionally be amusing to tear to shreds a poorly-written piece of genre fiction whose target audience is about as far from me personally as possible, the ability to inform, instruct, or merely provoke discussion always takes second place to the beyotch in this sort of writing exercise. I have found that it doesn’t really amuse me to write that sort of thing, in the long run. Truly this sort of effort should be saved for a target that has adherents who are prepared to support the merits of my target. Fish in barrels may tempt me to their shooting, but I hope to rise above that and take on more worthy targets. Ideally at least one person per discussion will pause to wipe the froth from his/her mouth before taking to the keyboard to threaten fatwa should I fail to take back what I said about Ste. Dorothy L., or St. Arthur Conan. Bring it, bitch, but be sure to show your work, as the teachers say.
Sometimes I think it is most likely the worst book of a good writer that will attract my attention; in a way, an easy target, but at the same time it means that I have to know the others well and be able to speak of the oeuvre instead of the period. There are a couple of books that I think are quite overrated and could use a fresh eye but it means I’ll have to read them again, which might be a deterrent.
I’m away from home at the moment and away from my reference library. Although I could certainly pick a target or two and start working on them, I’m the type of person who needs to confirm the smaller details. And I would never try to review a book without having a copy of it at hand and all I have is good books (or non-mysteries, for the most part). Any mystery I choose to eviscerate will have to wait until I return, at least a week.
So I thought I would put the word out to my few regular readers and, for once, ask for some feedback rather than avoiding it. What books do you think would be entitled to be in the category of “die before you read”? What criteria do you think I should use to judge these books? And what do you think would make this exercise useful as well as fun?
If inspiration doesn’t strike you, I’m considering as a potential target The Last Woman In His Life, by Ellery Queen (1970). Wikipedia tells me that it is not one of the ghostwritten Queens so it is fair game. And isn’t it interesting that the worst Queen should also have been accompanied by the worst design in every incarnation I’ve ever seen? My only qualm is that 1971’s A Fine and Private Place is very nearly equally ghastly and if you think it is worse, I’d be hard-pressed to deny it. I’d rather entries in this project were unambiguously awful and it seems unfair to single out two from the same author.
So, big ol’ Queen, or what’s your suggestion? Oh, and one last question — should I include films? Or is that a separate project?
I love a mystery, but I hate spending hours finishing some ghastly tripe, hoping it will get better, and it never does. I abandoned Dell Shannon forever when her HERO commented that a dirty hippie deserved to be murdered because he paid no taxes. Charlaine Harris/Joan Hess: never again. (“I hope Tess isn’t the killer! She’s such a nice person!”) Also had the misfortune to read the Marsh and Van Dine (despite my adoration of the late Miss Gracie Allen) Queen’s THE GLASS VILLAGE is also terrible.
Hoping to suggest a “worst” mystery, I reviewed the list of books I’ve read in the past few years, and realized I’ve had excellent luck, and have very few monstrosities to (un)recommend. Favorite authors getting lazy: Scottoline, KEEP QUIET; Cook, THE FATE OF CATHERINE CARR. Mistakenly trying a new author: Rindell, THE OTHER TYPIST; Holt, MRS. MALLORY AND oh who cares.
Thanks for writing about terrible mysteries; scathing reviews are just so much more fun than raves!
P.S. I treasure my copy of ANN SHERIDAN AND THE SIGN OF THE SPHINX but believe me I’m never going to make the mistake of READING IT.
Thanks for the kind words, Thomas, and I envy you your copy of that Ann Sheridan book! No, I don’t think it’s readable. I have a couple from that series and they’re barely literate. They’re hard to get these days though, in good condition.