This is the '60s spy thriller which set the benchmark for all the others. Probably le Carré's shortest book, but none the worse for that. The plot is assembled with machine-tool precision and every twist comes as a shock both to the reader and to the tragic anti-hero Alec Leamas - played brilliantly in the film version by Richard Burton.
John le Carré: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
John Le Carre
Victor Canning: Doubled in Diamonds
Canning was a star crime writer in the '60s and in Rex Carver he created one of the best wise-cracking British PIs ever. The four Carver novels are narrated in the first person. In this, the second in the series, Carver lands in trouble when he takes on a seemingly trouble-free case to track down a man who's just inherited money.
Doubled in Diamonds
Puppet on a Chain
MacLean is best known for his set piece war novels such as The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare. Puppet on a Chain is set mostly in '60s Amsterdam. Interpol narcotics investigator Paul Sherman is on the trail of a vicious drugs ring. But though Sherman is a wise-cracker in the noir tradition, he's also behind the curve in the investigation. As a result one of his two sexy assistants is topped and he only saves the other and cracks the case in a thrilling denouement.
Alistair Maclean: Puppet on a Chain
The Empty Hours
McBain was in his pomp during the '60s writing the gritty contemporary cop tales in his 87th Precinct series. The Empty Hours is one of the best - essentially a collection of three stories of cop life in the precinct woven together into a tightly written narrative.
Ed McBain: The Empty Hours
Bagley was another top performer during the '60s producing a string of excellent crime novels including The Freedom Trap and The Spoilers. Running Blind predates Icelandic noir by decades. The book has hero Alan Stewart and girlfriend Elin Ragnarsdottir running round the glacier-scared country with a weird device the Russians desperately want to capture. Pacey first-person narrative.
Desmond Bagley: Running Blind
Set at the height of the Organisation de l'Armée Secrète (OAS) terror in Paris in 1962, the plot concerns a hired assassin's attempt to kill President General de Gaulle. The book still reads as a taught cat-and-mouse game between the assassin and the cops charged with thwarting his threat. But, for Forsyth, it was downhill all the way after this superb debut.
The Day of the Jackal
Frederick Forsyth: The Day of the Jackal
This woman (Sjöwall) and man (Wahlöö) pair were early entrants into the Nordic noir field with this contemporary cop mystery published in 1968. Detective Beck investigates what lies behind the machine-gun slaughter of eight people on a bus and discovers a link to a previous crime.nd double cross.
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö: The Laughing Policeman
The Laughing Policeman
Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
Len Deighton: The Ipcress File
You could call this a spy novel but the hero, Harry Palmer, takes on a whole regiment of criminals and secret agents as he pursues his quarry - Bluejay. Nothing is as it seems, especially when Palmer comes across the secret Ipcress file. The film version with Michael Caine was an iconic '60s movie.
The Ipcress File
Peter Bartram's TOP TEN 1960s CRIME AND THRILLER MYSTERIES
Many speak of Macdonald as the true heir of Raymond Chandler. And Macdonald was at his peak during the '60s turning out a string of his hard-boiled Lew Archer crime mysteries. The understated writing sparkles with a sardonic wit. In Black Money, Archer is on the trail of the wealthy and violent Francis Martel and looks into a suicide that was probably murder.
Ross Macdonald: Black Money
I first started reading crime fiction seriously in the 1960s. So when I came to choose an era in which to set my own books, I guess I must have been influenced by what those far-off days.
The 1960s - the Swinging Sixties - was an exciting decade to live through. It wasn't all flower power and free love - as we like to think. There were wars (in Vietnam), terrorism (the hijack of Flight 253) and a Cold War which seemed chillier than ever as superpowers rattled their nuclear arsenals.
So which crime and thriller novels set in the 1960s best capture the decade? Here is my personal top ten selection, listed - as judges sometimes say - in no particular order:
A Caribbean Mystery
I may be cheating a bit here: although Christie penned this Miss Marple cozy in 1964 she doesn't explicitly say when it's set although the descriptions infer it's contemporary. Miss Marple moves outside her comfort zone of St Mary Mead to take on a murder case while on an exotic holiday. The TV version of this with Joan Hickson and Donald Pleasance captures great early '60s atmosphere.