I won't vote until I better understand the priorities of your members, and unless people who are unlikely to read the final selection should refrain.
One question: Is this poll meant to cater to veteran mystery and espionage readers or less specialized readers in general? I ask because mystery criteria are different from those of standard book club selections. Ordinarily, the idea is to read something truly great and/or rewarding no matter how familiar it might be. Mystery readers, however, can be so indiscriminately voracious that, often, they'd rather read something new and decent than familiar and unquestionably great.
My feeling is that books should be chosen first on their merits and then on their possible over-familiarity. I'd rather read a great book thrice than a mediocre one once.
My personal picks:
1. The Maltese Falcon. I know writers who read the book and watch the Huston flick about three times per decade. Hammett's the first of his kind, in a way, and that book's a watershed in history and arguably his best novel (though I know people who have written dissertations on the wordplay in Red Harvest). The descriptions are visual in ways that remind me of modernist paintings, and recall passages by writers like Eliot and Pound. The sense of playful anarchy in Hammett doesn't really return to the genre he practically invented until Charles Willeford.
2. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Again, I know famous authors who learned to write by reading Carré. William Gibson, for one, who wrote long letters to a mutual friend about modeling Neuromancer after Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (which I prefer to Cold, but even so). In those letters, which I've read, Gibson also despaired of ever becoming a tenth as good as Carré.
One of the things that amazes other well-known writers I've spoken with is Carré's ability to make library research fascinating to the average reader. Two entirely different writers have mentioned that to me.
112. Writers like John Grisham can't possibly be recommended in the same breath as Hammett and John le Carré. I like Grisham as a persona, presence and benefactor; I even like his politics. But as a writer, he's a hack as surely as Henry VIII was a questionable spouse.
That said, your list contains about three books I can't comment on at all, which means my vote would be uninformed.
I reserve judgment on those few unfamiliar authors and titles until I do a bit of research and actually read excerpts.
Last edited by Prestidigitweeze; 05-26-2011 at 12:54 AM.