Clive Cussler has to be at the top of any literary pantheon of fiction gods for me. He is not the best writer in the world, no one will ever accuse him of being Charles Dickens or Shakespeare, but he just may be the most entertaining. Add to that the fact he got me reading, really reading for the first time, helped cement his place on the list. When I set out to create this list, his name was the only one absolutely set in stone.
Best Book: Sahara holds a special place for me in his trove of works. It has everything you could want in a novel; character, plot, history, action and great characters. A deeper novel then people will ever give credit, this is one piece of popular fiction which rises above the rest.
Herman Wouk earned a place on this list by writing what may stand as the two best books I have ever read. His two volume World War Two epic was everything a saga could be and set the bar for all war fiction that followed. Sure, the romantic subplots sometimes dulled the flow of the book, but you cared about the characters. You wanted them to find happiness, secretely knowing all along that they never would. At the end, all you want is to share Wouk's deeply powerful theme: the only true way to stop conflict is through love of peace, not fear of war. A staggering work of fiction everyone should read.
Best Book: Do you even need to ask? In case you missed my comments above, The Winds of War and War and Rememberance remain two of the greatest works of fiction. Timely, prescient and powerful these are books that demand reading.
There are probably five or six crime fiction writers I could have placed on this list, yet I went with Dennis Lehane. Why? Read his books and you won't doubt me for a second. Starting with his Patrick Kenzie / Angie Gennaro series all the way through Mystic River, Lehane has proven again and again he is a master of the literary noir novel. His novels are so much more than simplistic "crime stories", they are deep, thoughtful and thematic. Take his brilliant Darkness Take My Hand a harrowing look at the cost of violence. Who pays the price for the actions we undertake rashly? Who suffers? Read any of his books and you will see why the shattering twists and turns will keep you gripped in the story until the end. I'll wait for you to pick up your jaw from the floor.
Best Book: You could take your pick from the Kenzie / Gennaro series, or you could go with Mystic River or even the psychological brain-twister Shutter Island. I will stick with one of my all-time favorites Darkness Take My Hand, probably the best serial killer novel ever written.
Stephen King may eventually be known as the greatest writer of his generation. Laugh if you want, but who more than King has made popular fiction into literature? His books have examined many themes which have haunted our society and he continues to churn out stories at an astounding rate. Not bad for a guy who supposedly retired several years ago. The things that have come out his mind deserve recognition whether you think his work should be in the "great literature" cannon or not. A hundred years from now they may not be reading many authors from our time, but I guarantee they will be reading Stephen King.
Best Book: A toss up between It and The Stand, I ultimately went with The Stand but both books endure as great works. The Stand for its perfect depiction of good versus evil and It for its exploration of what it really means to let go of your childhood fears.
The Best of the Rest:
Philip Kerr - A writer whose depiction of the rise and fall of the Nazi's through the eyes of a Berlin private eye makes for pitch perfect novels. Try and stop yourself from reading all six books straight through. He just continues to get better and better - need proof? His lastest Bernie Gunther mystery A Quiet Flame may just be the best book he has written yet.
James Lee Burke - His Dave Robicheaux books have shown the dark side of Louisiana to the world and like Kerr, he just continues to get better and better. Also, he may have written the best book about Hurricane Katrina - The Tin Roof Blowdown.
James Ellroy - Has written some of the best Noir around, yet it is his unmatched ride through the turbulent history and tangled conspiracies of the Kennedy years that earns him his spot on this list. American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand are incredible books that should be required reading for understanding the darkest period in American history.
George Pelecanos - Like Dennis Lehane, Pelecanos writes books that ratchet up crime fiction. His stories are intensely character driven and play out like gritty, grim, urban westerns. Yet, there is the pulse of a city and the heart of nation beating beneath the decay and death he chronicles.
David Peace - Not familiar with the name? You should be: he writes dark, historical thrillers which examine themes of police corruption and the fallout from crime. Whereas most writers shy away from the cost of murder and violence, Peace revels in it. His Red Riding Quartet about the infamous "Yorkshire Ripper" makes for intense, bleak reading. Peace writes books that are so much more than crime thrillers, they are literature, plain and simple.
Don Winslow - I have read a few books by Don Winslow and most can be shrugged off as crime thrillers that are decent. Then, I read The Power of the Dog. His searing, unflinching look at the rise of the Mexican Cartels is one of the great books written on the subject.
William Shakespeare - There was no way I could forget the Bard! All we have, all that has been written, flows from his works.