Top Ten Blog Posts of 2016

(2016 has been a banner for the Strand’s blog, our blog has been a hit with readers all around the world with over 100,000 hits per month. Here’s a sampling of our ten most popular blog posts from Rennie Airth to Tess Gerritsen our articles have never explored the same issue twice, but have always told a story and provided some nuggets of info and a little bit of entertainment.)

The Top Ten Wartime Mysteries by Rennie Airth


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Although war itself tends to push thrillers into the background—how can even the most ruthless murderer compete with the wholesale carnage that ensues when nations take up arms—along with other writers, I have found that both the aftermath of war and its looming threat provide a rich background against which to set tales of murder and betrayal. It’s a truism that war changes society. But beyond that, it can also reveal a man’s true nature, what he is capable of, and it was with this in mind that I wrote The Death of Kings (Viking), the latest in the Madden series, to be published in January 2017. Here is a list of ten thrillers with a wartime connection that have caught my eye over the years.

I’ll start with Sébastien Japrisot’s brilliant post-World War I mystery, A Very Long Engagement. This epic love story centers on a crippled young woman’s determination to find out the truth about what happened to her fiancé, one of five French soldiers found guilty of self-mutilation and thrust into no-man’s-land with bound hands to die at the hands of the enemy. Read More

The Top 5 Literary Investigators Everyone Should Know

The Top 5 Literary Investigators Everyone Should Know by Warren Adler

As a prolific writer of more than fifty novels, I’ve been inspired by many mystery writers, from Georges Simenon to Agatha Christie, who’ve created indelible detectives that every mystery lover should know. These writers constructed complex, nuanced, and intelligent investigators who have influenced my own Fiona Fitzgerald mysteries series and standalone cozy mysteries like Flanagan’s Dolls. Here I have made a list of the top five investigators in literature that everyone should know.

  1. Inspector Maigret

I’ve collected Georges Simenon’s books for years and have read many of them; he is a master of brevity and can say in a few concise words what most writers take pages to convey. Simenon’s French detective, Jules Maigret, is not as well known as Sherlock Holmes, but he is a fully rounded character, inserted into the Parisian landscape as a living part of the environment. We are told what he drinks, what he eats, how he copes with the weather, the traffic, the changing seasons, what he wears, how he talks, and even how he smokes his pipes. His outward life is a masterpiece of description, told with marvelous precision, but it is his inner life, his innate understanding of the human condition that makes him unique and enormously interesting. He feels deeply, carefully considers, analyzes, and reacts. Read More

A Short History of Horror by Leo Braudy

A Short History of Horror

Horror fiction arose in the late eighteenth century with such works as Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, Matthew G. Lewis’s The Monk, and Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho. Frankenstein and Dracula followed in their wake over the next hundred or so years, but it took the invention of the movies to implant the images of horror even more deeply in our minds. Here’s a brief list of great moments of movie horror in more or less chronological order.

The silent period first exploited the movie magic of stop motion, double exposure, and other techniques to make the supernatural more tangible and the frisson of fear more intense. Two early classics are The Golem (1920), a Frankenstein-esque tale of the creature created to protect the Jews of Prague; The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), a wild tale of a sideshow hypnotist with a somnabulist assistant whom he sends off to murder; and Nosferatu (1922), F. W. Murnau’s unauthorized takeoff of Dracula, which introduced the disintegration in daylight motif. Read More

Top Ten Spies of the Cold War by Nigel West

top five cold war spy novels

There are two methods of identifying the top ten spies of the Cold War. One is to assess the damage inflicted by individual agents; another is to dig a little deeper and find out who made the major cases of espionage possible. All but two of the spies on the list were “walk-ins,” being self-recruited volunteers who literally strolled into the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., without a prearranged appointment and in defiance of the FBI’s physical and technical surveillance on the building, and offered their services for a price.

One of the great skills of a case officer is to recognize an authentic potential source when it first appears, and another is to react to the delicate situation in a manner that engenders confidence on the part of the putative spy. Results will testify to the efficacy of the approach adopted, and in this scenario, the outstanding professional must be Boris Solomatin, formerly the Washington KGB rezident who was responsible for recognizing US Navy NCO John Walker as the genuine article. When they met for the first time, for two hours in October 1967, Walker dispelled any fears Solomatin might have had about an FBI provocation or agent provocateur, because of the nature of what was being offered: crypto-cards from the current KW-7 cipher machine employed to communicate with Norfolk’s fleet of ballistic missile submarines. No “operational game” would risk compromising such vital information. Read more


I was asked to guest blog about books that influenced me to become a writer.

Hmm. Not as easy a request as it might seem. No doubt every book I’ve read, or that was read aloud to me before I acquired the skill, inched me a little closer toward becoming a novelist. I could start with my favorite bedtime story, “Bedtime for Frances,” and go from there.

But it would take me forever to comprise such a comprehensive list, I was given a word count for this piece, and you have other things to do.

So, I whittled the list down to eight books that I consider great because I learned a profound lesson about writing from each of them. I’ve been a published author for over thirty years, so these books, like me, aren’t newcomers. They are, however, still worth reading, whether for pleasure or for study if you’re an aspiring writer. Read More


When it comes to admitting books or authors into the pantheon of classics, there is seldom much controversy. Age is a great unifier and there will be few voices to contest the presence of Chandler, Hammett, Christie, and so many from older generations. However, once you’ve moved past the 1960s, the game becomes murkier: are Highsmith, James, Rendell, Connelly, Rankin, Cornwell, McBain, Westlake, Patterson, and countless others whose critical reception and sales are beyond compare to become the future classics? Are awards and adulation the right barometer? Only time will tell.

There are, though, many books and writers who have not gained such recognition, maybe in the way once-overlooked names like Cornell Woolrich, David Goodis, and Jim Thompson were ignored when they were alive and are now seen in a significantly different light.This list of books that I sincerely believe will be seen a few generations hence as modern classics is totally idiosyncratic and personal. Many of the writers involved are not even seen as part of the traditional crime thriller canon or have been acclaimed in other areas (Mandel for her futuristic Station Eleven, Mayersberg for his screenplays), but they are “different” and striking in their scope.

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The Ten Best Movie Thrillers

It seems to be a universal truth that thriller lovers will take their thrills in any medium available, whether it’s books, television, or movies. When you don’t have a week to spend on a book or a few months to spend on a television series, a two-hour movie can deliver the adrenalin punch every thriller lover’s looking for.

Forget about asking, “But it is art?” A thriller movie’s job is to grab you, suck you in, shake you up, and leave you reeling when it’s over. People don’t talk about roller coasters “transcending the genre.” These films deliver that jolt for me every time. Here are my favorites, in chronological order:

  1. Double Indemnity (1944) Deceptively simple, al
    most unbearably tense: the audience, in rooting for the villains, becomes complicit. The tension forms in the gap between the truth, as we see it, and the lies the characters tell themselves and each other…
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And The Lessons They Teach Us

10) Hotel Dolphin – 1408: Mike Enslin writes book-length top ten lists of haunted places. He goes to the worst of the worst of haunted hotels where the manager (played by Samuel L. Jackson in the film) tells him to stay the hell out. Enslin checks in anyway and learns that whatever lives in Room 1408 enjoys driving guests to suicide. Further proof that when Samuel L. Jackson tells you not to do something, you should listen.

Lesson . . . Being a writer is incredibly hard work.

9) House of Usher – The Fall of the House of Usher: When the name of your house is capitalized, it’s got enough rooms to be a hotel. Our narrator is cheering his buddy through a bunch of psychosomatic ailments that aren’t helped any when Roderick Usher’s sister dies. They put her in a vault, a storm brews, and then they do a fun interactive reading of a scary story, complete with sound effects provided by the sister, who is not dead and understandably not wild about her new accommodations. Read More


Best Seaside Novels

I’ve always loved the sea. I grew up in southeastern England, not exactly on the coast, but only a few miles inland, with pebbled beaches, chalky rock pools, and crashing waves just a short drive away.

There’s not a lot of wilderness in the UK, particularly in the southeast. You have to pick your spot to find a place without evidence of human habitation, and when you get there, more often than not someone arrived before you and is tucking into an egg and cress sandwich.

But we are a small island, and so in many ways it’s the sea that acts as a reminder that nature is vaster, more powerful, and so very much more mysterious than ourselves. And while it can seem tame in summer, you don’t have to stray far from the shore to realize that the sea is the ultimate wilderness: exhilarating, terrifying, and vaster than any landmass on the earth.

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Top Ten Agatha Christie Novels

This list was pleasurably difficult to compile—Agatha Christie wrote around eighty novels over half a century, so I had to make some hard choices but I also relished the opportunity to mull over books I first started to read when I was about eleven or twelve and have been reading ever since.  There are some possibly controversial omissions here—The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Then There Were None, for instance.  This is a list of Christie favorites that I’ve enjoyed going back to time and again for more than just the plots.  I hope it serves as a springboard to return to her classics and discover her other stories that may be less well known but are equally compelling.

4:50 from Paddington, 1957 (Miss Marple).  Who can forget the incredible premise? From the window of a moving train, Mrs. McGillicuddy sees a strangling take place through the window of another train passing by.  Jane Marple, “everyone’s favorite spinster” detective, dispatches Lucy Eylesbarrow, a college graduate, to infiltrate Rutherford Hall, a stately home situated along the trains’ route, and search for the body.

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