James Lee Burke's list of his choices for the best mysteries of all time has strangely disappeared from the Parade magazine website, so, as a public service, I am reproducing his list and annotations here. This list suggests, among other things, that (a) Burke may not have read very many mysteries and (b) he may be friends with Ron Hansen and Michael Connelly:
Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy is a masterful metaphysical story dealing with the stigmata. Ultimately, it's about a woman who represents courage and altruism in the midst of mediocrity.
James M. Cain once said his stories were about the ultimate human tragedy—people getting what they want. Double Indemnity, a 1930s murder mystery involving an insurance fraud scheme, exemplifies his best work.
Mr. Majestyk, by Elmore Leonard, features a farmer who runs afoul of the Mob. It's one of the best portrayals of professional criminals I have ever read and a beautiful accomplishment in terms of dialogue and style.
Selected Tales and Sketches is a collection of Nathaniel Hawthorne's stories, perhaps the best allegories ever written about the nature of good and evil.
The city of Los Angeles is a protagonist in The Black Echo, Michael Connelly's superb tale about Vietnam vets pulling off the score of scores. Connelly writes with the knowledge and experience of a hard-nosed police reporter, but he's also an artist.
Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men deals with evil that seems to have no origin. The writing is spartan, the imagery and dialogue as clean as razor cuts in leather. The story seems derived from the collective unconscious; it is frightening and unforgettable.
[Originally published in Parade on April 19, 2009.]