Hailed as the queen of Irish crime fiction, Tana French worked as a professional actor and voiceover artist before releasing her debut In the Woods in her later 30s. A psychological mystery, the book took the literary and pop fiction worlds by storm, winning Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Barry awards for best first novel.

Each of her seven works published since has been a New York Times bestseller, with the first six forming the beloved fictional Dublin Murder Squad series – all narrated unreliably by a different detective solving homicides in Ireland’s seedy capital city.

In a reading list for The Guardian, French selected 10 of her favorite thrillers that defy genre conventions. From Donna Tartt and P.D. James to Patricia Highsmith and Agatha Christie, find her recommendations below. Complement with the bookshelves of Gillian Flynn, Ian Rankin, James Patterson, John Le Carré, and Lee Child.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

“Savage, entrancing, erudite and utterly beautiful. Richard Papen finds himself drawn into an elite group of classics students at his New England college, but gradually he realizes that the intensity and ruthlessness that initially attracted him go much deeper than he thought… There’s no whodunit element, you find out on the first page who killed whom, but that doesn’t matter: you still can’t put the book down. You spend the first half desperate to find out why the murder happened, and the second half desperate to find out what happened next. It’s both an incredible mystery novel and an incredible literary novel; the supposed borderline between the two genres completely dissolves.” -TF

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

“Inspector Grant spends the entire book in a hospital bed, the murders happened more than 500 years ago, and you’d get more graphic violence in the phone book. To stop himself going nuts with boredom, and because Richard III’s face interests him, Grant starts investigating who really killed the Princes in the Tower. The results aren’t exactly what he expected. It’s a fascinating piece of research that raises all kinds of questions about the accuracy of “history” but that never gets in the way of the fact that it’s a beautifully constructed mystery.” -TF

The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe

“‘When I was a young lad twenty or thirty or forty years ago I lived in a small town where they were all after me on account of what I done on Mrs Nugent…’ The events unfold through the increasingly distorted viewpoint of Francie Brady: his world and his mind slowly disintegrate and his private mythology takes over, with very nasty consequences. The usual arc of a mystery centers on finding out whodunit, but here, again, that’s not the question: it’s a whydunit, with the arc centered on Francie’s devastating, violent and often very funny descent into madness.” -TF

Innocent Blood by P.D. James

“Philippa has always known she’s adopted, but when she turns 18 and goes looking for her parents, the truth comes as a brutal shock. Her mother is a murderess, in jail for killing a child whom Philippa’s father had raped. And she’s about to be released… The nature of the crime is never a mystery; nor are the identities of the criminals. The mysteries pulling Philippa into dark, dangerous places are much more subtle, crucial and disturbing: the nature of identity, of intimacy, of evil and redemption.” -TF

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

“Old crimes cast long shadows; an attack on a child decades ago leads, by a dark winding road, to the murder of a young woman. This is another one that smashes huge holes in the walls that used to surround the genre. A lot of people used to look down on mystery; the assumption was that it was basically about cheap thrills and roller-coaster plots, with no character depth, no thematic depth, no high-quality writing and no thoughtful exploration of ideas – in other words, that there was a huge wall between mystery and ‘real’ writing. If anyone still believed in that barrier, I’d say Mystic River finally blew away the last remnants of it. It’s a cracking good whodunit and a tight police procedural, but it’s also a family saga, a social history, a coming-of-age story and a beautifully written book with vivid, unforgettable characters.” -TF

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

“Poirot has retired to the countryside to grow marrows, but he’s missing the thrill of the chase and his faithful Hastings. When he’s presented with a local murder, and a neighboring doctor who’s dying for the chance to be the famous detective’s new sidekick, he can’t resist. Unless I’m missing something huge, this is the book that pioneered the concept of the unreliable narrator in mystery. That change put the entire structure of the genre up for grabs.” -TF

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (also rec’d by Philip Seymour Hoffman)

“Tom Ripley, broke and living by his wits, is sent to Italy to convince rich boy Dickie Greenleaf to come home. Instead, he kills Dickie and steals his identity. The book positions us with the murderer, not the investigator. We see the whole train of events through Tom Ripley’s eyes, and we’re seduced into being on his side. Usually the great payoff moment of a mystery book, the one you look forward to, is the moment when the killer is revealed. Highsmith turns that upside down: when Ripley is on the verge of getting caught, you’re on the edge of your seat hoping that he’ll escape, that that big payoff won’t happen.” -TF

Hurting Distance by Sophie Hannah

“Naomi is rebuilding her life after a terrible rape – right up until her lover goes missing. When the police don’t believe her, she decides that the only way to get them to pay attention is to accuse him of the rape. This one breaks the rules because it isn’t about murder. It’s one of the few mysteries to deal, unflinchingly and in depth, with rape – not just as a tagged-on accessory to the ‘real’ crime of murder, but as a real, horrific and life-shattering crime in itself.” -TF

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

“I know, Tey again – I can’t help it. A young girl stumbles home bruised, half-dressed and half-conscious. She claims two women kidnapped and enslaved her. Robert is a peaceful country solicitor; the last thing he wants is to be drawn in on the accused women’s side… No murder here, either. The most serious crime in the whole book is basically wasting police time, you know who the villain is within the first few pages, and yet it’s a gripping book – a chilling portrait of a fledgling psychopath, and of the terrible emotional damage that psychopaths can inflict on everyone around them.” -TF

A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read

“Madeline Dare is a tough-talking ex-debutante turned small-town reporter. Then a set of dog tags found in a field seem to implicate her favorite cousin in a long-ago double murder… All fiction is, to some extent, about shaping reality into patterns, but this book takes that process a step further: big chunks of the plot, and many of the characters, are taken from Read’s own life. I’ve seen plenty of semi-autobiographical chick lit and literary fiction, but never semi-autobiographical mystery. That step brings up a whole new set of ethical questions and dangers. The mystery genre is basically all about the intricacies of morality, and this book adds a whole new layer.” -TF

(via The Guardian)

Categories: Writers