Monday, May 21, 2007

You’re Still the One, Part II

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

Laura Lippman, author of What the Dead Know and No Good Deeds:

“I nominate Suspects [1985], by David Thomson. Some people might not think of it as a crime novel, but there is a mystery at the heart of this book--the connections among myriad film characters, many from classic crime and noir films. From Chinatown to East of Eden to The Big Sleep to Laura to American Gigolo to It’s a Wonderful Life, Thomson weaves the kind of web that provokes lively debates among film buffs and crime buffs. Did Julian from American Gigolo really grow up in the whorehouse from East of Eden? Is Noah Cross’s back story believable? Jake Gittes’?

“The sad thing is--I’ve had to crib that description from the Web and my own (awful) memory. This book, a gift from my sister, was taken from me years ago; and while I thought I had replaced it, I can’t find my secondhand copy, either. I don’t get mad about much that involves material things, but I cursed a blue streak when I found out my copy of Suspects had been taken. (OK, there’s more to the story than that, but I’ll keep that private.) A one-of-a-kind novel, and it’s hard to imagine many writers pulling it off. Thomson, a film critic, was the perfect man for the job.”

Peter James, film producer and author of Looking Good Dead:

Obsession (1973), by Miles Tripp. “The story of a modest, unassuming man, obsessed with clocks, who declares at the start of the book that a man bumped his car at a traffic light and when he got out to remonstrate with him, the man punched him in the face and drove off. The narrator tells us he hereby dedicates the rest of his life to finding this man and getting even with him.”Matters take a distinct turn for the worse when he discovers, by one of those quirks of fate, that this man, a successful barrister, is having an affair with his wife.”Few novels have ever gripped me so hard, from the first line, as this book. And few have such a totally dark yet grimly satisfying ending. I had my film company, Quadrant, then, in Canada, and we snapped up the film rights. Unfortunately the project ended up in development hell and we never made it. It was always a big regret.”

Adam Woog, crime-fiction critic, The Seattle Times:

“I nominate Swan Boats at Four, by George V. Higgins (1995). The late Mr. Higgins began his literary career writing tough-as-nails crime stories, and--though he frequently moved far beyond the genre’s standard borders--he regularly returned there. Swan Boats at Four was a later work in his long career, a subtle and funny shaggy-dog story about a con man aboard a luxury cruise. Though the book is set far from Higgins’ usual seedy Boston locales and never got the attention it deserved, it exemplifies his best: perfect-pitch dialogue; plots unfurling through that dialogue with majestic slowness; and the author’s affection for the loquacious, full-blooded characters who speak it.”

James Sallis, author of Drive and Cripple Creek:

Killing the Second Dog (1990), by Marek Hłasko. “A Polish writer, Hłasko is little known here; this translation came out from a small press and went virtually unread. But it is one of the grittiest, finest novels I know, forever surprising, strange, unforgettable.”

Declan Hughes, playwright and author of The Color of Blood:

The Dark Fields (2002), by Alan Glynn. “The Dark Fields is about Eddie Spinola, an average guy going nowhere fast who takes the wrong drug--MDT 48. Initially, it seems like the right drug, because life starts to look up: he loses weight, writes brilliantly, can sense in advance the movements of the money markets, has the X-factor when it comes to women--he becomes the guy he always dreamt of being, the guy GQ magazine told him he could be. But then the headaches start, and the blackouts, and the fear of what he did in those blackouts, and what he’s now capable of, and then comes the terrifying realization that he is not alone in being hooked on this drug, and that all the other addicts seem to be men of great wealth and power whose behavior is becoming increasingly unrestrained, with apocalyptic consequences for the world. Smart and scary and brilliantly written, The Dark Fields has been adapted for the screen and production is imminent; the book should have been a best-seller.

Jack Getze, author of Big Numbers:

Sleeping Dogs, by Thomas Perry. “When this unusual (for the time) novel came out in 1993, Publishers Weekly called it ‘disappointing, jumpy, and disjointed,’ and wondered who would root for a hit man. Boy, I sure did. A slow first chapter hides one of the most fun and suspenseful romps I’ve ever enjoyed. This protag knows his stuff!”

J.D. Rhoades, lawyer, blogger, and author of Safe and Sound:

“The answer is a no-brainer for me. Most criminally underappreciated author is Katy Munger. Most criminally underappreciated book is Katy’s Money to Burn [1999].

Katy’s heroine Casey Jones is a tough, lusty, bad-ass woman from the wrong side of the tracks. Casey could kick Stephanie Plum’s ass from here to hell and back. Money to Burn throws Casey into a mystery that pits her against Southern Old Money. The result is a well-plotted, engrossing mystery with a ton of heart.

It even has a great first line: “I never smoke after sex, though I have been known to purr.”

Katy rules.

David Skibbins, certified life coach and author of The Star:

A Darker Place (1999), by Laurie R. King. “Before Sherlock Holmes’ wife showed up on the scene, King penned a rich, intellectually challenging, Jungian mystery/thriller. Her heroine was reflective, middle-aged, compassionate and courageous, quite a contrast from more popular, impulsive, kick-ass females.”

Elizabeth Foxwell, managing editor of Clues: A Journal of Detection and author (with Dean James) of The Robert B. Parker Companion:

The Revenge of Kali-Ra (1999), by K.K. Beck. “This funny and affectionate paean to pulp fiction (indeed, Beck dedicates the book to H. Rider Haggard, Baroness Orczy, E. Phillips Oppenheim, and Sax Rohmer) is written by a frequently underrated author who is equally adept at suspense novels, historical and contemporary mysteries, and non-fiction books.”

Steve Brewer, author of Monkey Man and Whipsaw:

“My overlooked classic would be The Singapore Wink, by Ross Thomas (1969), but I’m fudging a little here because I’m really nominating all of Ross Thomas’ standalones. I could just as easily have named The Fourth Durango or The Fools in Town Are on Our Side. His series stuff is great, and Briarpatch won the Edgar, but Thomas wrote several lesser-known standalones that are absolute classics, with twisty plots, snappy dialogue, colorful characters, and wry observations about politics, greed, and corruption.

“In The Singapore Wink, a laid-back former Hollywood stuntman is hired to find a colleague believed to have died two years earlier. The dead man, who’s a member of a Mafia family, has been spotted alive in Singapore. Typically great Ross Thomas opening: ‘He was probably the only man in Los Angeles wearing spats that day ...’”

Jeffrey Marks, author of Who Was That Lady? Craig Rice: The Queen of Screwball Mysteries and A Good Soldier:

Home Sweet Homicide, by Craig Rice. She was a one-time wonder in the mystery world, who is now sadly forgotten. Her work was extremely popular in the 1940s. HSH was a fascinating book made into an adorable movie.”


Bill Peschel said...

Yeah for Kali-Ra! The book to read after "Chinatown Death Cloud Peril"!

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

You said it, Bill, re Kali-Ra. It's hard to resist a novel that begins, "Part 1. In which the Queen of Doom awakens from her slumber" and features an author named Valerian Ricardo.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dusty. I loved the Casey Jones books and wish there were more.