Copyright 2012 by Michael E. Grost

A Syllabus: Classic Mystery Fiction | The Great Puzzle Mysteries | Pulp Fiction | Pulp Fiction Anthologies | Scientific Detection | Blind Detectives | Railroad Crimes | Rogues, Crooks and Capers | Experimental Mystery | Political Mystery | Historical Mystery

A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection Home Page | Mysteries by Michael E. Grost

A Syllabus: An Introductory Course in Classic Mystery Fiction

This is a reading list, of classical detective stories. It is designed to introduce major writers, techniques and traditions.

It can be used for a high school or college course. Or for self-study. Reading classical detective stories can help your critical thinking skills and creativity. The stories are just plain fun to read, too!

It concentrates on short stories. Many of the best detective stories are in short story form. Also, students will learn more from reading a dozen good short stories, rather than a single novel. The recommended short stories are listed for each collection.

Please also see my picks of:

Each author's name is linked to their article on my web site A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection. These articles include much longer Recommended Reading lists, and detailed critical studies.

The best print reference book on classic mystery fiction is Chris Steinbrunner and Otto Penzler, editors: The Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection (1976). It is full of biographies of the writers, and profiles of the detectives they created. The websites Golden Age of Detection Wiki and The Thrilling Detective Web Site are packed with information.

This course concentrates on detective stories, defined as "mysterious situations, such as a murder, disappearance or theft, investigated and solved by detectives". This course is restricted to authors who published their first mystery fiction between 1887 (the debut of Sherlock Holmes) and 1943. Writers who debuted in 1944 or later are excluded from the course.

Please mail your comments to me, Mike Grost, at (Clicking here will bring up mail.) I am eager to hear what you think.

A short list of books readers might want to start with, as a quick introduction to classic mystery fiction:

  1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  2. John Dickson Carr: The Three Coffins (also known as The Hollow Man)
  3. Ellery Queen: Calendar of Crime
  4. Agatha Christie: The Regatta Mystery
  5. Jacques Futrelle: The Thinking Machine
  6. Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood: The Bat
  7. Dashiell Hammett: Nightmare Town
  8. Helen Reilly: McKee of Centre Street
  9. Stuart Palmer & Craig Rice: People Vs. Withers & Malone
  10. Arthur B. Reeve: The Silent Bullet AND The Poisoned Pen

The Great Puzzle Mysteries

This is a core tradition in detective fiction: mysteries with logical but surprising solutions. These tales show the remarkable things authors can do with plot.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (available on-line at

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (available on-line at

Israel Zangwill

The Big Bow Mystery (1891) (available on-line at

"Cheating the Gallows" (1893) (available on-line at

H. Greenhough Smith

"The Case of Roger Carboyne" (1892) (available on-line at

Catherine Louisa Pirkis

The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective (1893) (available on-line at

Arthur Morrison

(These Arthur Morrison works are available at

Martin Hewitt, Investigator (1894) (available on-line at

The Chronicles of Martin Hewitt (1895) (available on-line at The Adventures of Martin Hewitt (1896) (available on-line at

M. McDonnell Bodkin

(These Bodkin works are available at

Paul Beck, the Rule of Thumb Detective (1897)

The Quests of Paul Beck (collected 1908) (available on-line at

L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace

A Master of Mysteries (collected 1898) (available on-line at "The Secret of Emu Plain" (1898) (available on-line at

Jacques Futrelle

The Thinking Machine stories are all available on-line at Roy Glashan's Library, and some at

The "Thinking Machine" Detective Stories

G. K. Chesterton

The Innocence of Father Brown (available on-line at The Wisdom of Father Brown (available on-line at

Carolyn Wells

Raspberry Jam (1919-1920) (available on-line at

A. A. Milne

The Red House Mystery (1922) (available on-line at

S.S. Van Dine

The Dragon Murder Case (1933) (available on-line at

Agatha Christie

Partners in Crime (1924 - 1928) (available on-line, at The Mysterious Mr. Quin (1924 - 1929) (available on-line, at The Regatta Mystery (available on-line, at

Ellery Queen

The Adventures of Ellery Queen (available on-line, at The New Adventures of Ellery Queen (available on-line, at Calendar of Crime

John Dickson Carr

The Three Coffins (1935) (a novel also known as The Hollow Man) (available on-line, at

The Department of Queer Complaints (most of these stories are also in collection Merrivale, March and Murder)

The Third Bullet (available on-line, at The Men Who Explained Miracles (available on-line, at

Stuart Palmer

Hildegarde Withers: Uncollected Riddles (collected 2002)

People Vs. Withers & Malone (written with Craig Rice) (1950 - 1963)

Clayton Rawson

Death Out of Thin Air: Don Diavolo Mysteries

Hake Talbot

The Rim of the Pit (1944)

Dorothy L. Sayers

Hangman's Holiday (collected 1933) (available on-line, at In the Teeth of the Evidence (collected 1939) (available on-line, at

Margery Allingham

Mr. Campion and Others (available on-line, at

E.C.R. Lorac

The Case of Colonel Marchand (1933)

Dorothy Cameron Disney

Strawstacks (also known as The Strawstack Murders) (1938 - 1939)

The Balcony (1940) (available on-line, at

Anthony Boucher

Exeunt Murderers

Rex Stout

Three Men Out (available on-line, at Three For the Chair

Craig Rice

Murder, Mystery and Malone

Matt Taylor

The Famous McGarry Stories (collected 1958) Uncollected Dan McGarry and Kitty Archer stories

James Yaffe

My Mother, the Detective

Pulp Fiction

From 1896 to 1957, "Pulp magazines" were filled with short stories and serialized novels. These were very inexpensive magazines, printed on cheap wood pulp paper. The stories they published were known as "pulp fiction". Pulp magazines published every sort of fiction: Westerns, sports tales, romances, adventure, science fiction. Over 360 pulp magazines specialized in mystery and crime fiction, publishing 58, 000 stories. Listed below are reprints of some of the better pulp detective tales.

Today the most famous pulp fiction is tough, hard-boiled writing from the pulp magazine Black Mask. We list key examples of this with Dashiell Hammett, Paul Cain, Raymond Chandler and the remarkably informative anthology The Black Mask Boys. But many other kinds of pulp detective fiction are also included, to show the diversity of the field. The anthology Tough Guys & Dangerous Dames is recommended as a way to survey the riches of pulp fiction.

Dashiell Hammett

(Many of these Hammett stories are also available on-line, at

The Big Knockover (available on-line, at

The Continental Op (available on-line, at Nightmare Town

Erle Stanley Gardner

The Amazing Adventures of Lester Leith (available on-line, at The Case of the Irate Witness (available on-line, at The Danger Zone The Case of the Careless Kitten (1942) (a Perry Mason novel)

Norbert Davis

(Many Norbert Davis works are available at

The Mouse in the Mountain (1943) (available on-line at

Sally's in the Alley (1943) (available on-line at

Holocaust House (1940) (available on-line at

The Adventures of Max Latin

Paul Cain

Seven Slayers

Raymond Chandler

The Simple Art of Murder

Cornell Woolrich

Nightwebs (available on-line, at Blind Date With Death

Fredric Brown

Carnival of Crime Before She Kills Pardon My Ghoulish Laughter

John Thomas McIntyre

Ashton-Kirk, Investigator (1910) (available on-line at

Octavus Roy Cohen

Six Seconds of Darkness (1918) (available on-line at

Hugh Pentecost

The Death Syndicate (1938)

Bruno Fischer

The Angels Fell (1950)

Day Keene

Wake Up to Murder (1952)

John K. Butler

Sandy Taylor of the Harbor Police tales

Robert Leslie Bellem

Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective stories

Merle Constiner

Kincaid stories

Edward S. Aarons / Edward Ronns

"Murder Buys a Hat" (1942) (available on-line, at

E.C. Marshall

"The High-Powered Corpse" (1946) (available on-line, at

Glenn Low

"The Music Box Murders" (1946) (available on-line, at

Pulp Fiction Anthologies

The Black Mask Boys (1985), edited by William F. Nolan (available on-line, at Hard-Boiled Detectives: 23 Great Stories from Dime Detective Magazine (1992), edited by Robert E. Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz and Martin H. Greenberg (available on-line, at Tough Guys & Dangerous Dames (1993), edited by Robert E. Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz and Martin H. Greenberg (available on-line, at The Hard-Boiled Detective (1977), edited by Herbert Ruhm (available on-line, at Hard-Boiled Dames (1986), edited by Bernard Drew (available on-line, at Best Detective Stories Of The Year - 1946 (1946), edited by David C. Cooke (available on-line, at Best Detective Stories Of The Year - 1950 (1950), edited by David C. Cooke Murder and Mystery in Chicago (1987), edited by Carol-Lynn Rössel Waugh, Martin H. Greenberg and Frank D. McSherry, Jr.) (available on-line, at ) The Mystery Companion (1943), edited by A.L. Furman

Scientific Detection

These are mysteries in which the detectives and/or crooks use science, technology or medicine. Scientific Detective stories form one of the major traditions of mystery history.

Brander Matthews

Tales of Fantasy and Fact (collected 1896) (available on-line at

Robert W. Chambers

The Mystery of Choice (collected 1897) (available on-line at

Samuel Hopkins Adams

The Flying Death Average Jones (collected 1911) (available on-line at

Cleveland Moffett

Through the Wall (1909) (available on-line at

Thomas W. Hanshew

The Man of the Forty Faces / Cleek, the Master Detective (collected 1910) (available on-line at

R. Austin Freeman

The Eye of Osiris (1912) (available on-line at

The Singing Bone (collected 1912) (available on-line at

William MacHarg & Edwin Balmer

The Achievements of Luther Trant (collected 1910) (available on-line at

Arthur B. Reeve

The Silent Bullet (1911) (available on-line at The Poisoned Pen (1912) (available on-line at The Dream Doctor (1913 - 1914) (available on-line at Constance Dunlap (1913 - 1914) (available on-line at The War Terror (collected 1915) (available on-line at The Social Gangster (collected 1916) (available on-line at

H. C. Bailey

Call Mr. Fortune (collected 1919) (available on-line at

Freeman Wills Crofts

The Cask (1920) (available on-line at

The Box Office Murders (1929) (available on-line at

Mystery in the Channel (1931) (available on-line at

John Rhode

Death in the Hop Fields / The Harvest Murder (1937) (available on-line at

Nigel Morland / John Donavan

The Case of the Rusted Room (1937) (available on-line at

Helen Reilly

McKee of Centre Street (1933)

Theodora Du Bois

Death Dines Out (1939)

Philip Wylie

Ten Thousand Blunt Instruments

Rufus King

Diagnosis: Murder (1939 - 1941) The Faces of Danger

Leslie Ford

Murder in the O.P.M. (1942)

Lenore Glen Offord

Skeleton Key (1943)

Lawrence G. Blochman

Diagnosis: Homicide Clues For Dr. Coffee

Helen McCloy

The Pleasant Assassin and Other Cases of Dr. Basil Willing

Blind Detectives

There are more first rate mystery stories about blind detectives, than about sleuths with any other disability. This is an important sub-category of Scientific Detection.

Clinton H. Stagg

Thornley Colton (collected 1915) (available on-line at Silver Sandals (1914, 1916) (available on-line at

Ernest Bramah

Max Carrados (available on-line at

Baynard Kendrick

The Whistling Hangman (1937)

Make Mine Maclain (available on-line at

Railroad Crimes

Train fiction used to be popular: sometimes involving crime or mystery. This is an important sub-category of Scientific Detection. See also Movies about Trains.

Victor L. Whitechurch

Stories of the Railway (collected 1912) (available on-line at

Francis Lynde

Scientific Sprague (collected 1912) (available on-line at

Rogues, Crooks and Capers

Frank L. Packard

The Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1914-1915) (available on-line at

Robert Barr

The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont (collected 1906) (available on-line at

Ernest Bramah

Max Carrados (available on-line at

Frederick Irving Anderson

The Adventures of the Infallible Godahl (collected 1914) (available on-line at, and at

J. Lane Linklater

Paul C. Pitt Short stories

Experimental Mystery

Some authors wrote detective stories that were innovative or experimental in approach. Orczy created the "armchair detective": a sleuth who figures out the mystery by pure thinking, without ever leaving his chair. Headon Hill also helped develop the armchair detective, before Orczy. M.P. Shiel, Henry Sydnor Harrison, E. C. Bentley and Harry Kemelman innovate with the structure of the detective plot. Playwright George M. Cohan offers inventive variations on mystery structure. Literary figures Capek and Borges wrote unusual mysteries based on philosophical concepts. MacKinlay Kantor's "The Neighbors Light Their Lanterns" merges mainstream fiction with mystery techniques. Lawrence Lariar combined the mystery with cartooning; Isaac Asimov fused the mystery with science fiction; Patricia McGerr created mystery puzzles with a spy fiction setting. T. S. Stribling used off-trail and paradoxical approaches.

Harry Kemelman and Patricia McGerr debuted shortly after our cutoff year 1943 - but they seem relevant to include, anyway.

Headon Hill

The Divinations of Kala Persad and Other Stories (collected 1895) (available on-line at

Matthew Phipps Shiel

"The Case of Euphemia Raphash" (1895) (available on-line at

Emmuska, Baroness Orczy

The Old Man In The Corner (1901 - 1902) (available on-line at The Case of Miss Elliott (collected 1905) (available on-line at Unravelled Knots (collected 1925) (available on-line at

Henry Sydnor Harrison

"Miss Hinch" (1911) (available on-line at

Mary Roberts Rinehart

The Case of Jennie Brice (1912) (available on-line at

Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood

The Bat (1920) (a novelized play) (available on-line at

E. C. Bentley

Trent's Last Case (1913) (available on-line at

George M. Cohan

Seven Keys to Baldpate (1914) (available on-line at

Karel Capek

Tales from Two Pockets (1928, 1929)

Jorge Luis Borges


MacKinlay Kantor

Author's Choice (available on-line at

Lawrence Lariar

The Man with the Lumpy Nose (1944)

T. S. Stribling

Best Dr. Poggioli Detective Stories

Isaac Asimov

Asimov's Mysteries The Best Mysteries of Isaac Asimov

Harry Kemelman

The Nine Mile Walk (available on-line, at

Patricia McGerr

Legacy of Danger (1963 - 1970) (This is a story collection disguised as a "novel". Best stories: Chapters 4, 5, first part of 6, 9, 11, second part of 12, 13, 15) (available on-line, at

Political Mystery

Some mysteries looked at political and social issues. Many of the writers in other sections also discussed politics: Arthur B. Reeve, Samuel Hopkins Adams, Dashiell Hammett, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, Hugh Pentecost, Leslie Ford, Helen McCloy, Theodora Du Bois.

Donald McGibeny

32 Caliber (1920) (available on-line at

William Almon Wolff

Murder at Endor (1933)

Ngaio Marsh

Death in a White Tie (1938) (available on-line, at

Mabel Seeley

Eleven Came Back (1943) (available on-line, at

E.R. Punshon

Night's Cloak (1944)

Aaron Marc Stein / George Bagby

The Body in the Basket (1954) (available on-line, at

Historical Mystery

Mysteries published in the classical period were almost entirely set in contemporary times. But a few authors pioneered historical mysteries.

Melville Davisson Post

Uncle Abner, Master of Mysteries (collected 1918) (available on-line at

Georgette Heyer

The Talisman Ring (1936) (available on-line, at

Lillian de la Torre

Dr. Sam: Johnson, Detector (available on-line, at The Detections of Dr. Sam: Johnson (available on-line, at

Henry Winterfeld

Caius ist ein Dummkopf / Detectives in Togas (1953) (available on-line, at