Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Ones That Got Away

I had no idea what to expect when, in anticipation of The Rap Sheet’s first birthday on May 22, I e-mailed invitations to more than 100 crime novelists, book critics, and bloggers from all over the English-speaking world, asking them to choose the one crime/mystery/thriller novel they thought had been “most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years.” When you survey people in this way, you generally expect a fairly low response rate; folks are busy, maybe they don’t open their e-mails in time to meet the deadline, they’re out of town, or they just don’t want to participate, for one reason or another. I figured I’d be fortunate to hear back from 20 percent of the men and women I contacted. Instead, about 98 percent of them responded! And after I started posting the nominations and write-ups I had received in The Rap Sheet last Monday, more people wrote to ask whether they could participate, as well.

This seemed to be a subject close to writers’ hearts. That was clear in many of the nominating comments, as authors expressed nostalgic or heartfelt feelings for the books under consideration, or else a bit of comradely jealousy that somebody else had been able to pull off a literary feat that they themselves would one day like to achieve. This endeavor also proved worthwhile, because it reminded us of how many excellent books this genre has produced over the decades. Too few publishers go searching through the out-of-print piles for works that ought to be rediscovered (exceptions being Hard Case Crime and Stark House Press). We need reminding, every so often, of what isn’t available any longer, but should still be found and read.

I was surprised by the breadth of suggestions made. They spanned the entire 20th century, with a few from the 21st. And many of the books were new to me, as well as others.

I had never so much as heard of One for Hell, by Jada M. Davis, a 1952 paperback suggested by Bill Crider; or Finding Maubee, by A.H.Z. Carr, a 1972 Edgar Award winner that that Robert J. Randisi pulled out of his memory; or 1987’s Any Cold Jordan, by David Bottoms, which Wallace Stroby nominated. Equally valuable, this project reminded me of books I’d once thought sounded interesting, but never got around to reading, such as Hard Rain Falling (1966), by Don Carpenter, which George Pelecanos suggested; or The Revenge of Kali-Ra (1999), by K.K. Beck, which was plugged by editor-author-interviewer Elizabeth Foxwell; or Night Dogs (1996), by Kent Anderson--and that one received not one, but three nominations in our survey. Of the 115 novels mentioned, only four others were selected twice by the people surveyed. And just five writers--Charles Willeford, P.M. Hubbard, Ross Macdonald, Colin Harrison, and Jess Walter--appear with more than a single title on this list.

One friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, sent me a note after the fourth installment of The Rap Sheet’s “overlooked books” nominations had been posted, saying that he was having fun reading about all of the crime novels authors thought worthy of resurrecting. But he added something along the lines of “could you please stop this project now? I’ve already ordered a few of the books people have suggested, and my to-be-read pile is already at a dangerous height. I fear my wife will divorce me, if I buy any more books this week!” Likely, all of us who enjoy crime fiction and looked closely through all 10 parts of The Rap Sheet’s “one book” project came away with suggestions of what to read next. I know I did--copies of both Night Dogs and Interface (1974), by Joe Gores, are currently winging their way to my mailbox.

Several people suggested that I compile a master list of all the “unjustly overlooked” books nominated during the last week, and that’s exactly what I have done below. The titles are arranged alphabetically, according to the book’s name. And I’ve boldfaced those five titles that received more than one vote. In addition, for anyone who didn’t catch The Rap Sheet’s “one book” series the first time through last week, and is hoping to read all 10 parts in the order they were posted, I have set up a separate archive blog site, containing all of the text and book covers. You can find that here.

Again, I appreciate the time and effort that everyone took in responding to The Rap Sheet’s first-birthday survey. I might be ready, by the time this blog’s second birthday rolls around next May, to take on another special project of similar scope. Though, remember, I said might.

* * *

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

About the Author (2001), by John Colapinto
Anatomy of a Murder (1958), by Robert Traver
Any Cold Jordan (1987), by David Bottoms
Before I Die (1954), by Lionel White
Big City, Bad Blood (2007), by Sean Chercover
Blackburn (1993), by Bradley Denton
The Black Mass of Brother Springer (1958), by Charles Willeford
Blood Marks (1991), by Bill Crider
Bodies Are Dust (1931), by P.J. Wolfson
Bodies Electric (1993), by Colin Harrison
The Bridge of Sighs (2003), by Olen Steinhauer
The Burnt Orange Heresy (1971), by Charles Willeford
California Fire and Life (1999), by Don Winslow
Castles Burning (1979), by Arthur Lyons
The Caves of Steel (1954), by Isaac Asimov
The Chill (1964), by Ross Macdonald
Citizen Vince (2005), by Jess Walter
A Clod of Wayward Marl (2001), by Rick DeMarinis
Coffin’s Got the Dead Guy on the Inside (1998), by Keith Snyder
Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965), by Chester Himes
Crow In Stolen Colors (2000), by Marcia Simpson
Daddy Cool (1974), by Donald Goines
A Darker Place (1999), by Laurie R. King
The Dark Fields (2002), by Alan Glynn
The Dark Ride (1996), by Kent Harrington
The Deadly Percheron (1946), by John Franklin Bardin
The Depths of the Forest (2002), by Eugenio Fuentes
The Distance (2002), by Eddie Muller
Don’t Cry for Me (1952), by William Campbell Gault
The Doorbell Rang (1965), by Rex Stout
Dover Beach (1987), by Richard Bowker
Drama City (2005), by George Pelecanos
Early Autumn (1981), by Robert B. Parker
Eight Million Ways to Die (1982), by Lawrence Block
An Embarrassment of Corpses (1997), by Alan Beechey
Every Dead Thing (1999), by John Connolly
Fast One (1933), by Paul Cain
The Fiend in Human (2002), by John MacLachlan Gray
Finding Maubee (1972), by A.H.Z. Carr
The Franchise Affair (1948), by Josephine Tey
Fugitive Moon (1995), by Ron Faust
Funeral in Berlin (1964), by Len Deighton
Get Carter (1970, originally Jack’s Return Home), by Ted Lewis
Gramercy Park (2002), by Paula Cohen
The Guards (2001), by Ken Bruen
Gun Before Butter (1982), by Nicholas Freeling
Gun with Occasional Music (1994), by Jonathan Lethem
Hard Rain Falling (1966), by Don Carpenter
The Havana Room (2004), by Colin Harrison
High Tide (1970), by P.M. Hubbard
The Holm Oaks (1965), by P.M. Hubbard
Home Sweet Homicide (1944), by Craig Rice
How Like an Angel (1962), by Margaret Millar
The Human Stain (2000), by Philip Roth
Intent to Kill (1957), by Brian Moore
Interface (1974), by Joe Gores
Israel Rank (1907), by Roy Horniman
The Janissary Tree (2006), by Jason Goodwin
The Jugger (1965), by Richard Stark
A Killing Smile (2004), by Christopher G. Moore
Killing the Second Dog (1990), by Marek Hłasko
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1948), by Horace McCoy
Land of the Blind (2003), by Jess Walter
The Last Witness (2004), by K.J. Erickson
The Late Man (1993), by James Preston Girard
Legion (1983), by William Peter Blatty
The Lime Pit (1980), by Jonathan Valin
Lovely Mover (1998), by Bill James
The Lowlife (2001), by Alexander Baron
Madeline’s Ghost (1996), by Robert Girardi
The Manchurian Candidate (1959), by Richard Condon
Miami Blues (1984), by Charles Willeford
Miami Purity (1995), by Vicki Hendricks
The Misfortunes of Mr. Teal (1934), by Leslie Charteris
Money to Burn (1999), by Katy Munger
Murder Draws a Line (1940), by Willetta Ann Barber and R. F. Schabelitz
Never Come Back (1941), by John Mair
Night Dogs (1996), by Kent Anderson
Night of the Jabberwock (1951), by Fredric Brown
Night’s Black Agents (1933), by David Armstrong
No Highway (1948), by Nevil Shute
Obsession (1973), by Miles Tripp
The Old Dick (1981), by L.A. Morse
One for Hell (1952), by Jada M. Davis
The Pew Group (1980), by Anthony Oliver
The Red Right Hand (1978), by Joel Townsley Rogers
The Revenge of Kali-Ra (1999), by K.K. Beck
River of Darkness (1999), by Rennie Airth
Roseanna (1965), by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
The Rose of Tibet (1962), by Lionel Davidson
Run (2001), by Douglas E. Winter
Senseless (2001), by Stona Fitch
Seven Keys to Baldpate (1913), by Earl Derr Biggers
The Singapore Wink (1969), by Ross Thomas
Sleeping Dogs (1993), by Thomas Perry
The Small Back Room (1943), by Nigel Balchin
Sob Story (2007), by Carol Anne Davis
Solomon’s Vineyard (1941), by Jonathan Latimer
Spiral (1999), by Jeremiah Healy
Stamboul Train (1932), by Graham Greene
Still River (2005), by Harry Hunsicker
Stone City (1990), by Mitchell Smith
The Strangler (2007), by William Landay
Suspects (1985), by David Thomson
Swan Boats at Four (1995), by George V. Higgins
Texas by the Tail (1965), by Jim Thompson
The Thin Man (1934), by Dashiell Hammett
To Catch a Forger (1988), by Robert Wallace
Tomato Red (1998), by Daniel Woodrell
A Town of Masks (1952), by Dorothy Salisbury Davis
The Tropic of Night (2003), by Michael Gruber
True Grit (1968), by Charles Portis
The Underground Man (1971), by Ross Macdonald
Wild Horses (1999), by Brian Hodge
The Woman Who Married a Bear (1992), by John Straley


Bill Peschel said...

Now the next part of the game begins: Go through the list and highlight the books you have read and, just so we all don't end up with scores of "4" (my score), highlight any author whose book you've read (16 in my case).

This was a great idea. I've got a lot of catching up to do.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I found this fascinating. For me, it was a tough question, because I haven't been reading the genre long enough to have a long list of obscure titles to choose from. Many of the books were, as I expected, ones I hadn't heard of before, which is what I wanted to see. (If anything, I was surprised by the nomination of titles by some bestsellers.)

And I already knew I had a lot of catching up to do. Comes with the territory of only being converted to the genre this century.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks for your hard work on this. What a fun idea.

MP said...

Nice list, and a very worthy project, even if many of the titles aren't exactly obscure. Since I'm an old fart and have been reading this stuff since I was a teenager, it's not surprising that I've actually read 30 of them, and I look forward to tracking down a number of the others. If I could pick one title I'm really surprised nobody mentioned it would be William Hjortsberg's "Falling Angel".

Linda L. Richards said...

Well, well done, Pierce! Great question and super execution of a good idea. Though I guess I shouldn't be thanking you for adding to me TBR list! I'm going to be spending years catching up from this.

David Thayer said...

Jeff, Thanks for stretching my brain across the genre's vast terrain. I'm surprised to see a few names missing like Peter Abrahams OBLIVION, Domenick Stansbury, Peter Spiegelman BLACK MAPS, Denise Mina's Garnethill, Barbara Saranella, Robert Ferrigno, Jim Fusilli, Jenny Siler, Perez-Reverte, John Shannon...
Very thought provoking.

Kent Morgan said...

I just took a quick count of the list and I have copies of 45 somewhere in my collection (that means in my house or boxed in my garage) and have probably read half that number. I've also read another three or four that I don't own. The one book that I've read that I can't believe is on the list is Fugitive Moon by Ron Faust. I hated it even though I really liked his later PB originals. I read Another Cold Jordan by David Bottoms years ago and it's worth tracking down. I also will recommend KJ Erickson.

Kent Morgan

Anonymous said...

Great idea, great list. Your readers might also be interested in THEY DIED IN VAIN, a little gem pubished by the Crum Creek Press in 2002. The question is asked: "If characters die in a mystery novel, and no one reads their story, have they died in vain?" Mystery bookstore owners respond enthusiastically with great suggestions, all annotated in an eminenetly literate fashion.

RM1(SS) (ret) said...

I've read five of these, plus books by another five authors (counting Sjowall and Wahloo as one).

Looks like I've found something to do after reading the rest of the Newbery Medal winners (59 more to go) and the rest of the top 100 SF novels (54 to go)....

Anonymous said...

Man was I alseep at the wheel, I totally missed the call for the ones that got away. I would have said Fade by Kyle Mills. I've read at least 32 of the books listed here.

Sylvia in Anchorage

Mantanhattan said...

Not even one mention of Kem Nunn?