Books: Mysteries That Bloom in Spring

New trends and names keep the plots boiling

They are the insomniac's solace, the commuter's opiate, everymitty's escape from idiot box and cuckoo's nest. Novels of crime, mystery and suspense are by far the most widely read form of literature in most of the Western world, and not infrequently the best written. Asked some 35 years ago to name the worthiest American novelist, Andre Gide replied unhesitatingly: Dashiell Hammett. (Because, said the author of The Immoralist, Hammett "never corrupted his art with morality.") Yet few contemporary critics treat the mystery as anything more substantial...

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