Wednesday, June 25, 2014

“You Want to Know What Happens Next”

While searching earlier today through my many boxes of vintage magazines (others might be less generous and call them “old”), looking for something completely unrelated, I happened across the July/August 1993 issue of American Heritage. I could have saved this particular edition for Donald L. Miller’s fine piece about Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, or perhaps for John Steele Gordon’s essay recalling America’s historical debates over free-trade practices. But my suspicion is that I actually held onto this copy of AH because of its cover story by author Lawrence Block. Titled “My Life in Crime,” it recounts Block’s childhood introduction to works of mystery and thriller fiction, tries to separate “cozies” from “hard-boiled” stories, and has nice things to say about Bouchercon, which was then one of the few opportunities mystery writers and readers had to congregate.

In addition to all of that, though, Block offers a rundown of his 16 favorite American crime-fictionists … well, really his 16 favorite dead crime-fictionists, every one of them a man. (If given the same assignment today, I suspect he might throw at least a few women’s names into the mix. There are so many more being published nowadays.) The usual suspects are all included, from Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Chester Himes to the two Macs: Ross Macdonald and John D. MacDonald. In addition to those, I’m pleased to see that he features Stanley Ellin (whose 1958 novel, The Eighth Circle, I so enjoy), Ellery Queen (whose many whodunits have, sadly, fewer followers in 2014 than they once did), and Cornell Woolrich (with whom many younger readers are completely unfamiliar). Mentioned as well is Jack Ritchie, who penned primarily short stories--and is the only person on this list who is all but a stranger to me. (I’ll have to remedy that hole in my education soon.)

Because I think Block’s survey of the genre is still worth reading, if only to remind you of authors you have not sampled in a while (Erle Stanley Gardner? Charles Willeford?), I am embedding it below.

Right-click on the pages below to bring up enlargements.


Scott Parker said...

Glad to see Earl Stanley Gardner on the list and for the Cool and Lam novels no less.

Jack Seedhouse said...

What a treat -a thoughtful and thorough examination of the genre we love, written moe than 30 years ago by a Master. Thanks for bringing this - still revelant today - to Rap Sheet readers.