Erik Larson (''The Devil in the White City'') recommends Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon.
Every year or so I reread ''The Maltese Falcon.'' First, there is Hammett's prose. He cuts a line that is clean and simple, empty of the adverbs and compound adjectives that clutter the work of lesser writers. He conveys the emotions and thoughts of his characters through precise description, never stooping to so facile a tactic as telling us what his characters are feeling and thinking. Hammett also created an ensemble -- Sam Spade, Joel Cairo, Brigid O'Shaughnessy, and Casper Gutman -- that remains as fresh now as it was in 1930. Finally, Hammett's ear for conversation is so acute that John Huston lifted entire passages for the screenplay of his famous film adaptation.