There are a few authors out there that stand out from the others for me, writers that I consistently enjoy and appreciate. I don't buy a lot of books because I don't have the money it would take to buy all the ones I'd like, but there are some authors that I try to buy everything they've written.
These are authors that I recommend to everyone and believe make the world better for having lived. You cannot go wrong by picking up something by these authors and reading it, and every library is enriched by having their works.
Raymond Chandler: Chandler took what Hammett had begun, and mastered it, taking the hard boiled detective to new heights of literary skill. He was able to write a mystery so interesting, filled with such fascinating characters and events that you didn't even care how the mystery turned out, just so you could keep reading and see what happened.
Bernard Cornwell: Today's master of historical fiction. Cornwell reached his fame with the Sharpe series, but has crafted a half dozen other fascinating historical series with equally amazing skill and entertaining talent. This man understands historical warfare and the men who fought it better than any ten other writers combined.
Loren Estleman: The greatest living author, in my opinion. A master of the language, skilled in writing dialog to a degree I only can dream of, Loren Estleman writes primarily detective and western stories. He has a grasp of history and personalities involved and brings them to life in such a skillful manner that it is a crime he's not as well known as more popular authors.
C.S. Forrester: Although his best work is his Horatio Hornblower series, Forrester's other works such as African Queen are also excellent. Forrester excels in creating memorable, flawed, and deeply interesting characters.
Dashiell Hammett: Hammett's work has all of the genius that people attribute to Hemingway, but with greater skill and less self consciousness. Hammett's comfort and casual style with the "hard boiled" genre created a new phenomenon in literature, and his works grow in esteem every year. A true master of the art of writing.
Louis L'Amour: although not considered great literature, his skillful and easy to read storytelling is always engaging and he was so prolific you don't have to worry about running out of books he's written. Some of his works are better than others, but they're all entertaining and fun to read. Primarily known for western (he calls them "frontier fiction"), L'Amour also wrote detective fiction, adventure stories set in Southeast Asia, other historical fiction set in various times, and even a poetry.
C.S. Lewis: Another master of language, Lewis wrote more non-fiction than fiction, and I recommend it all. Nothing he wrote is anything but superlative, and books such as The Abolition of Man should be required reading in every institution of higher learning around the world.
Patrick O'Brian: If people didn't speak as O'Brian writes them in the early 19th century, they ought to have. His Aubrey/Maturin books started out great and just got better every novel. O'Brian is destined to be considered one of the greatest writers of English literature in human history.
Edgar Allen Poe: One of the greatest writers in all history. Poe's genius is easy to underestimate until you read his actual work. The man single handedly created the detective and horror genres, and his creativity seemed to know no limits.
Robert Louis Stevenson: Possibly the best writer that has ever worked in the English language. Not only a gifted storyteller, he was so creative and inventive that no two books of his are alike. In fact, sometimes it can be difficult to find Stevenson's "voice" or style of writing, because he so skillfully changes it to match the requirements of the story.
There are other authors that I enjoy, but these are the crown jewels, the finest of the fine. Each of them holds my attention easily and repeatedly, and I've always been glad I have read anything they have written.
They also give me a bar to shoot for, something to strive for in my art, to try to equal. I'll never be as good as Robert Louis Stevenson, I'll never be as creative as Edgar Allen Poe. I'll never have the skill at writing dialog as Loren Estelman or the talent of Patrick O'Brian but I can learn from them and try.
And you'll not be sorry you read any of these writers, either.