Clayton Moore’s Top Mystery Novellas

These aren’t in any kind of order of importance, and I could have easily gone the 30s and 40s road with Chandler and Hammett, both of whom published several novellas during their lifetimes. But these are the ones that strike my fancy off the top of my head.

1. Strange Prey, by George C. Chesbro (1970)
The novella that introduced Chesbro’s fascinating dwarf detective Mongo, turned later into his first series novel Shadow of a Broken Man.

2. Death is Not the End, by Ian Rankin (1998)
The Edinburgh-scouring novelist at the height of his powers, crafting a story that was later cannibalized for Dead Souls.

3. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King (1982)
Not strictly a mystery, although it has elements of crime, conflict and justice that make it close. The story that made me change my mind about Stephen King.

4. Tenkiller, by Elmore Leonard (2003)
A fine novella about a rodeo stuntman from the collection When The Women Come Out To Dance. If it were the right length, I’d select “Karen Makes Out,” from the same collection.

5. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad (1899)
I don’t care what anyone says, this is a noir story. And it gave crime novelists the frame narrative device. And gave us Apocalypse Now. So there.

6. The Stranger, by Albert Camus (1942)
A story in which a man kills a stranger, and realizes death really is the end. Sounds like a crime novel to me.

7. Dick Contino’s Blues, by James Ellroy (1994)
One of Ellroy’s best works, and one that utilizes his penchant for flamboyant story-telling combined with factual historical material. Contino, by the way, is a real guy, still alive, and still playing the accordion in Las Vegas.

8. The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens (serialized 1870-1871)
The enduring mystery. Dickens’s last words, and the inspiration for recent novels like Drood by Dan Simmons and The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl. Not to mention one very fine episode of Doctor Who, “The Unquiet Dead.”

9. Walking Around Money, by Donald E. Westlake (2005)
The great man playing hell with his second-finest character, the wildly inept thief Dortmunder. This story appears in the terrific novella-specific collection series Transgressions alongside other fine novelists like Walter Mosley and the late Ed McBain.

10. Nobody Move, by Denis Johnson (2009)
A terrific diversion from the National Book Award-winning author of Tree of Smoke and Jesus’ Son, who is a big influence on one of the best contemporary noir writers, Richard Lange (Dead Boys). Originally serialized in Playboy magazine, this Chandler-inspired thriller will be published in May.

Bonus round: Trouble is My Business, by Raymond Chandler, A Man Called Spade, by Dashiell Hammett, I, the Jury, by Mickey Spillane, Strangers on a Train, by Patricia Highsmith, Bubba Ho Tep, by Joe R. Lansdale, The Lemur, by Benjamin Black, Everybody Pays by Andrew Vachss, Coronado, by Dennis Lehane, Keller’s Adjustment, by Lawrence Block, and most everything Ian Fleming put on paper.

Clayton Moore is a freelance writer and book critic specializing in crime fiction, mysteries and thrillers. His work has appeared in Kirkus Reviews, Paste Magazine, Atomic Magazine, The Rocky Mountain News and Bookslut. Find him online HERE.

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