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my top five crime writers

r.d. wingfield.

few crime classics have been so poorly served in their tv incarnation as r.d.wingfield\'s wonderful di jack frost. suffice to say the author has never been able to watch david jason\'s portrayal. (he had the young ronnie barker in mind for the role.) the frost in the books is a bit of a mess: irreverent, chain-smoking, on some levels a genuine gritty loser with a dark side. there\'s nothing of the slightly prissy, starched, jason. the books are a feast of intricate, multiple, procedural plots which dare you to try and find the crucial sideways links. denton, wingfield\'s mythical town, is as real as the desk sergeant\'s flip-up front counter. wingfield laboured over these books for years, but it won\'t take you long to read them all.

raymond chandler.

my favourite chandler line says it all: \"i left the house. nobody shot at me.\" style, humour, and the cool observation which makes philip marlowe, chandler\'s 1940s los angeles private detective, the archetypal sleuth. chandler may have got the hardboiled gum shoe from hammett, but he transformed him, writing that on the \"mean streets\" - yes, that\'s his too - the sleuth had to struggle not to become mean himself, rather a man \"neither tarnished nor afraid.\" critics will tell you that that\'s all there is to chandler - but who cares ? the plots are, famously, a little murky. william faulkner, who scripted the big sleep for the screen, cabled the author asking who had killed one of the main characters. came the immortal reply: \"i don\'t know.\"

elizabeth george.

i like my classic english whodunnits, well, english. so elizabeth george, a one-time native of orange county, california, is a surprise choice. but george\'s regular research trips to the uk have paid off. from cricket in playing for the ashes, to public school in well schooled for murder, to oxbridge in for the sake of elena, she gets her settings just right. it takes a foreigner to make the english as interesting as this. and her characters have real life - principally the noble (literally) d.i. thomas lynley of scotland yard, and the frumpy working-class barbara havers. (not a lot like her on-screen metamorphosis sharon small) what\'s more her characters grow and develop, so it\'s a good idea to read the novels in order. but watch out; don\'t get too attached to anyone.

sebastien japrisot

one critic said he\'d lost a battle when writing about japrisot\'s masterpiece - a very long engagement - not to compare it to war and peace. but don\'t let that put you off. the book is a kind of epic, encompassing war, love and death, but it\'s also a classic puzzle crime mystery with the kind of neatness that should nourish the train spotter in us all. five french soldiers, convicted of self-mutilation to avoid the horrors of the trenches of 1917, are pushed, bound, into no man\'s land. after the lines are overun five corpses are buried. the fiancee of one sets out to find out what happened that night between the lines. top tip: you need to keep track of the five men, so i wrote their names on the inside cover, along with their dog tag numbers and various nicknames. otherwise it really is like reading tolstoy.

edmund crispin.

if you like your sleuths to say things like \"oh my fur and whiskers ! lord what a fool i\'ve been,\" then crispin - aka robert bruce montgomery - is for you. an exponent of the \"impossible crime\" school of crime mysteries crispin produced nine books - most between 1945 and 1951. his hero - oxford don gervase fen - is an echo of carr\'s dr gideon fell, in turn based on g.k.chesterton. but crispin\'s trademark is a kind of fast-paced high spritedness, which is occasionally very funny. if you can only read one opt for the moving toyshop, surely a classic, and for the best, hilarious, denouement try buried for pleasure.