Tuesday, May 22, 2007

You’re Still the One, Part IV

Question: What one crime, mystery, or thriller novel do you think has been most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years?

Stuart M. Kaminsky, author of Always Say Goodbye and The Dead Don’t Lie:

“This is an easy one. The book I think has been overlooked and underappreciated is Jonathan Valin’s The Lime Pit (1980).

“Valin’s novel is powerful and brilliantly filled with difficult-to-forget characters, including the protagonist, private eye Harry Stoner. There is a client so haunting that I have channeled her near-clone in one of my novels. Valin wrote fewer that a half dozen Stoner novels set in and around Cincinnati. All are gems. They never caught on, never got an audience, while far lesser talents became best sellers. It would be great if some enterprising publisher picked up the Stoner novels. I would read them all again and recommend them to all lovers of hard-boiled mysteries.

“My back-up forgotten mystery novel is James Sallis’ The Long-Legged Fly (1992).”

Allan Guthrie, author of Hard Man:

Bodies Are Dust, by P.J. Wolfson. “First published in 1931 by The Vanguard Press, this is the story of a big-city cop who murders his best friend and takes up with the widow. The protagonist is described on the cover of the Lion Books edition (1952) as ‘an evil man with a streak of good.’ What I love about this book is the way Wolfson out-Hammetts Hammett. Same detached style, but the emotions are extraordinarily powerful. Astonishingly poignant dénouement.”

Janet A. Rudolph, editor of Mystery Readers Journal:

The Pew Group (1980), by Anthony Oliver. “This is a true British comedy/farce featuring the outrageous Lizzie Thomas and her companion in crime, John Webber. This is the first of four comedic mysteries by world-renown Staffordshire antiques dealer and critic Anthony Oliver. Starting from the first murder (‘She didn’t mean to do it, but somehow Doreen Corder’s foot went out just as her detested husband reached the top of the stairs’), this book will keep you entertained and educated in the world of Staffordshire figures. You’ll probably not eat ham at a funeral anytime soon, either.”

Bob Morris, author of Bermuda Schwartz:

True Grit (1968), by Charles Portis. “I never see it pop up on mystery lists. That’s probably because, sadly, it is best remembered as a John Wayne movie, where he played the sheriff Rooster Cogburn. But it is a marvelous story, one with real spunk and a true voice. Here is the wonderful beginning:
People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.

Here is what happened.
“I try to sit down with it at least once a year. I hope that others might enjoy it, too.”

Tom Cain, author of The Accident Man:

“It seems crazy nominating an Edgar-winner as an ‘unjustly neglected novel,’ but Jason Goodwin’s The Janissary Tree (2006) made very little impact when it was published in hardback in the UK, so maybe it’s time someone got up and explained why American jurors gave it their crime-writing Oscar. The book introduces a new detective, Yashim Togalu. He’s a eunuch, living in Istanbul in 1836, and he’s summoned by the Sultan to investigate the death of one of his concubines in the Imperial Palace. Meanwhile, the seraskier, or commander of the Sultan’s armed forces, wants Yashim to solve another murder, of a young guards officer. So there we are, not even a dozen pages in, and already a web of court intrigue, conspiracy, and violence has begun to be woven. But the plot--fast, well-handled, and intriguing, though it may be--is not the real delight of The Janissary Tree. That comes from Goodwin’s fantastic ability to convey the atmosphere, appearance, sounds, and smells of a great city, far away in time and space. He clearly knows his subject so well that he can present information and detail in a totally unforced way--this is like a more literary equivalent of Lindsey Davies’ Falco stories, set in ancient Rome--taking the reader by the hand on an amazing journey through an extraordinary place. I can quite see how a jury-panel, faced with a bunch of procedurals and autopsy-fests, set in near-identical police stations and morgues could have been inspired by something as unique and original as The Janissary Tree. I happened to buy a copy last year because someone told me Goodwin lived near me in West Sussex--it was my greatest and least expected literary pleasure of the past 12 months.”

Anthony Neil Smith, blogger, former editor of Plots With Guns, and author of The Drummer:

A Clod of Wayward Marl, by Rick DeMarinis. “Snubbed by bigger publishers, who were afraid literary writer DeMarinis’ venture into noir was a big mistake, this novel has been criminally neglected, despite great reviews when it hit the shelves in 2001. The novel is a tribute to the great James Crumley and others like him, pulp writers with ambition who end up teaching at universities (usually stringing together one visiting writer gig after another).

Half campus novel, half drunken high-pulp romp--and then there’s some high-tech virtual reality tossed in--Clod is a love song to noir and the writers who lust after it, even if that means they’re eternally swimming against the riptide.”

James O. Born, author of Escape Clause:

“My favorite crime novel, which happened to be overlooked for the most part, is Ken Bruen’s The Guards [2001]. It’s a brilliant depiction of a man torn apart by his own demons who strives to do right. Bruen is not afraid of having his hero do bad things, as well. The style, pace and tone all come together for one of the greatest crime novels ever.”

Peter Abrahams, author of Nerve Damage:

“The book I’d like to recommend is Stamboul Train (sometimes called Orient Express), by Graham Greene, published in 1932. Greene is hardly a forgotten figure, but I don’t think what he called his ‘entertainments’ are widely read these days. Stamboul Train is my favorite of these. Most crime fiction writers don’t rise above the plotting level. The better ones write about interesting characters. But only the best are capable of introducingthematic material, making the story mean something. Greene does it all, and so smoothly, in Stamboul Train.

Caroline Todd (alias “Charles Todd” when writing with her son, Charles), co-author of A False Mirror:

“I always felt that Crow In Stolen Colors (2000), by Marcia Simpson should have won an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. It was nominated, but lost to The Ice Harvest [by Scott Phillips]. ... Liza Romero chooses the desolate islands off the coast of southeastern Alaska as a place to heal after her husband’s death. Buying an old schooner she can handle herself, she supplies villages with no other access but by water. It’s a challenging life, and descriptions of this world and its people are not only well done but absorbing to this reader. The mystery involves a young boy she rescues from the water and the circumstances of his near-drowning. Because he can’t talk--or refuses to talk--she is afraid to turn him over to what might be the same people who have tried to kill him. And she cannot trust the Native American policeman who has no use for whites, even though he breaks through the boy’s silence. And the policeman in turn suspects her of being involved with the people stealing carvings and other artifacts from these island tribes. Hence the title, A Crow In Stolen Colors.

“I happen to like books that step away from the ordinary run of plots and work with characters and places that are unfamiliar to most of us. Glynn Marsh Alam’s Dive Deep and Deadly [2000], the first of her Florida series about a diver who helps the police from time to time, is another. They deserve recognition for what they offer--a fresh and intriguing look at a different kind of story, setting, and people. Therein lies the richness of the mystery genre.”

Peter Temple, author of The Broken Shore:

“Australian writer Robert Wallace [aka Robin Wallace-Crabbe] deserves to be better known. If you enjoy stylish prose and lightly worn specialist knowledge, you’ll enjoy his series featuring art forger Essington Lewis. My favorite is To Catch a Forger (1988).”

Anthony Rainone, a contributor to both The Rap Sheet and January Magazine:

“I'm selecting The Jugger (1965), by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake).

“This is a personal favorite Parker novel. How’s this for underdog status: not only is the book out of print, but Westlake is on record saying he doesn’t like the novel. Authors are usually the least informed about their own books, however. It is a gem. Parker is in Sagamore, Nebraska, and he’s looking to kill safecracker Joe Sheer. Joe knows way too much about Parker, whom he’s willing to sell out. Before Parker could silence him, Joe turns up dead. That’s when the fun starts. This is a tour de force novel in the series.”

Robert J. Randisi, author of Everybody Kills Somebody Sometime and co-author (with Vince Van Patten) of The Picasso Flop:

“I choose Finding Maubee, by A.H.Z. Carr. When it came out in 1972 it won the Edgar for Best First novel. [It’s] a procedural set in Jamaica, which was made into an enjoyable 1989 movie with Denzel Washington, called The Mighty Quinn. Unfortunately, before [Carr] could write any more, or--I believe--even before the book was published, the author died. ... I would have loved to see what this author would have done next.”

1 comment:

Jason Goodwin said...

You can find out more about the award winning Yashim the Eunuch series at www.jasongoodwin.net.
The third book, The Bellini Card, will be out this summer, you can visit its blog HERE.