Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol (Puffin, $5). My love of mystery began at the ripe old age of 8 with the Encyclopedia Brown series. I highly recommend it to parents who want to experience a touch of nostalgia or to help their children become better at deductive thinking.
Mind Hunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker (Pocket Books, $9). As a budding mystery writer, I realized that I had to understand the criminal mind. This book, co-written by the man who developed the FBI's profiling system, gave me the insights I needed. I consider his system one of the greatest innovations in criminal investigation since latent fingerprint analysis.
The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Bantam, $14). Two words: pure pleasure. For crime-fiction aficionados like me, having the Sherlock Holmes canon on hand is a must. All four novels and 56 stories are here, including my favorites: the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles and the short story "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League."
Dead Time by Eleanor Taylor Bland (out of print). A bit of detective work might be required to secure all the books in Eleanor Taylor Bland's Marti MacAlister series. But consider it a treasure hunt. Bland immediately hooks you into the professional life of a recently widowed detective who is bound by her familial obligations.
Point of Origin by Patricia Cornwell (Berkley, $10). What's better than a tenacious, hard-boiled lady detective who has nothing to lose? A tenacious, hard-boiled, forensic pathologist with everything at stake! Kay Scarpetta is one of my all-time favorite characters. I first met her in these heartrending, thrill-a-minute pages.
Along Came a Spider by James Patterson (Grand Central, $8). To this crime-fiction lover, there is nothing more fun than reading an Alex Cross thriller and rooting for its protagonist, a black psychologist turned detective turned FBI agent. I've always felt a strong connection to Cross, a widower with three young children who are looked after by his grandmother, Nana Mama. Patterson had me from the start.