Friday, May 25, 2007

You’re Still the One, Part IX

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

Peter Robinson, author of Friend of the Devil and Piece of My Heart:

“I’d like to nominate a whole series--the Martin Beck books by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. I know the series is not very obscure, but it was at the time I discovered it, in the early ’80s, and I had a very hard time getting hold of the books. I might as well begin by recommending the first in the series, Roseanna, published in 1965, though the other nine are equally as absorbing. The writers excelled at realistic character development and depiction of contemporary Sweden. Without pioneers like Sjöwall and Wahlöö, there might be no Kurt Wallander or Inspector Van Veeteren today, let alone Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks!”

Linwood Barclay, author of Stone Rain and No Time for Goodbye:

“Here’s one that comes to mind, but is very recent: Drama City [2005], by George Pelecanos. It received some critical acclaim, I think, but deserved more recognition and readership than I believe it got. At a time when writers are being encouraged to write ‘big’ books, Pelecanos writes a focused tale about the most unlikely of heroes, an ex-con who works as an officer for the Humane Society. It’s a raw crime novel, but it’s the undercurrent of humanity and sadness that struck me. My favorite of his novels.”

Karen G. Anderson, contributing editor of January Magazine:

High Tide (1970), by P.M. Hubbard. “In a used bookstore some years back, I paid $2 for this English mystery paperback. Single-sentence quotes from The New York Times Book Review graced the back cover and first page, and a short blurb on the back cover identified the protagonist as a convicted killer, recently released from prison, who finds himself being shadowed along the south coast of England by persons unknown.”The book was written with spare, precise language (something I’d come to expect from British crime writers) and Hubbard used the seacoast setting in such a way that you felt damp and chilled throughout. The coolness of the story reminded me of Nicholas Freeling’s books, and early Reginald Hill--and also, oddly, of 1970s-era songs by Richard Thompson about drifters and outsiders on the English backroads. In short, it haunted me.

“After reading High Tide, I hunted for more books by ‘P.M. Hubbard,’ with no luck. (This was in pre-Internet days.) Now I find that the author, Philip Maitland Hubbard, did indeed produce several other highly regarded crime fiction novels in the 1960s and 1970s. Apparently all of them were ‘psychologicals,’ without amateur or professional detectives--similar to the books of Patricia Carlon, and perhaps as much speculative fiction as crime fiction. Sadly, it appears that all of Hubbard’s books are out of print.”

John Lutz, author of Chill of Night:

“My choice for seemingly forgotten crime/mystery/thriller novel is Ross Macdonald’s The Underground Man, published more than 35 years ago. Everything you want or need in a California P.I. novel, and maybe Macdonald’s best book.”

Mary Reed, who writes the John the Eunuch historical mysteries (Five for Silver, Six for Gold) with her husband, Eric Mayer:

Seven Keys to Baldpate (1913), by Earl Derr Biggers. “It’s Christmas week, l9ll, and a beautiful young woman weeps in the railway station at the summer resort of Upper Asquewan Falls, New York. William Magee, a thorough gent, asks if he can be of assistance to her. She tells him to go away.”This is in fact exactly his intent. For while Magee’s novels have done very well, he yearns to scriven a work to silence those critics saying his work needs to be ... deeper ... more profound ... and so he has arranged to stay in the closed-for-winter Baldpate Inn, perched halfway up the mountain overlooking the village, in order to write The Great American Novel.

“This may put readers in mind of another work, but The Shining pales before Seven Keys, a rollicking yarn written in light, humorous style with more mysterious comings and goings than the Port Authority in New York. Magee’s expected solitude is disturbed by other arrivals, all possessed of keys to the inn. They include a spurned haberdasher, a professor of comparative literature escaping press attention over his unfortunate remark about blondes, the corrupt mayor of a nearby town and his shabby underling, and an actress--the woman Magee had seen crying at the station--who is in hiding after her agent has arranged her apparent disappearance as a publicity stunt.”There follows much ado, fisticuffs, and playing ‘pass the parcel’ with the $200,000 originally locked in the hotel safe. Shadowy figures are seen lurking about inside and out. Nobody is what they seem, except for the novelist, and even he gets confused at times, but all is satisfactorily explained in due course.”

Gerald So, fiction editor of The Thrilling Detective Web Site and moderator of the discussion lists DetecToday, Spenser’s Sneakers, and CrimeSeen:

Spiral (1999), by Jeremiah Healy. “I’ve always felt the [John Francis] Cuddy series was underappreciated next to Spenser and [Patrick] Kenzie and [Angela] Gennaro ... While many fictional private eyes have increasingly longer, drawn-out relationships, Healy had the courage to kill off Cuddy’s significant other and see how this would affect him. And while Healy planned to write more Cuddy novels at the time, Spiral was also a fitting end to a series that never rested on its laurels.”

Chris Mooney, author of The Missing:

“I’d like to nominate William Landay’s The Strangler [2007]. It’s a brilliant literary work that explores human drama and conflict much in the same way Dennis Lehane did in Mystic River. What I loved about it was the ending. It was absolutely terrifying without having to resort to gimmicks. Absolutely loved it.”

Willetta L. Heising, author of Detecting Women:

Murder Draws a Line, by Willetta Ann Barber and R. F. Schabelitz is the first of a seven-book Crime Club series from the 1940s featuring New York artist and crime scene illustrator Kit Storm. The novels, told from fiancée Sherry’s point of view, include pencil sketches of crime scene evidence and suspects. Schabelitz was a well-respected book and magazine illustrator. Co-author Barber was also his wife.”

James Lincoln Warren, blogger, short-story writer, and creator of Alan Treviscoe, 18th-century “indagator of crimes at Lloyd’s of London”:

The Caves of Steel (1954), by Isaac Asimov. “A favorite among classic science fiction aficionados, who refer to it as the first of Asimov’s ‘Robot novels,’ Caves is a police procedural set in a far future where the many billions of people of Earth live in monstrous claustrophobic conurbations called Cities (n.b. the uppercase ‘C’). It is a time of extreme civil unrest, caused by humans losing their jobs to robots, an economic modernization effort spearheaded by the Spacers, extremely long-lived and technologically advanced off-world-dwelling descendants of Earthmen, whose loss of normal immunological defenses renders them incapable of even casual unprotected contact with Earthmen. When a leading Spacer scientist is found murdered in the Spacer colony adjacent to the City of New York, the job of investigating his brutal death is punted to mid-grade detective Elijah Baley--whose new Spacer ‘partner’ is none other than one of the despised and feared robots. Caves contains all of the elements we associate with the best of contemporary crime fiction: a satisfying mystery, a moving depiction of the domestic pressures resulting from police work, the debilitating effects of racism and prejudice, the survival of human dignity in the face of its violation, and how crime leaves no one untouched. In many ways, it anticipated the sophisticated crime fiction we’re getting now, more than half a century later. How’s that for prognostication?”

Andrew Taylor, author of Naked to the Hangman:

“My choice is Never Come Back, by John Mair. Published in 1941, just before the author’s death in the RAF, it is an astoundingly intelligent political thriller with a louche and sometimes murderous hero and an unpredictable storyline. Its fans have included George Orwell and Julian Symons. Read it, and you’ll understand why. Out of print, but you can find copies secondhand.”

Mark Coggins, author of Candy from Strangers:

Interface (1974), by Joe Gores. “A Maltese Falcon for the late 20th-century featuring the morally challenged protagonist Neil Fargo, Interface is one of the few mystery novels written in the same objective, third-person point of view that Hammett used in Falcon and The Glass Key. It’s a book for reading in one sitting with a surprising, socko ending. It could be Gores’ least appreciated work, but it’s the one that proves he’s the perfect writer to create the prequel to Falcon.”

Benjamin Potter, Baptist pastor and book blogger:

“I’ve long argued that Bill Crider is not given due credit. His Blood Marks [1991] is a volume that stands the tests of good writing, suspenseful reading, and literary acumen. With it, he proves that he is more than just a short-story leader or Sheriff Dan Rhodes machine.”

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