Wednesday, May 23, 2007

You’re Still the One, Part VI

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

Michael Connelly, author of The Overlook:

Miami Purity (1995), by Vicki Hendricks. “This book has a strong cult following but not enough people have read it. I think it was a really unique take on noir. From the writing standpoint, it is full of risks that all pay off.”

Zöe Sharp, author of Second Shot and Road Kill:

“The title of the book is The Misfortunes of Mr. Teal, by Leslie Charteris, first published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1934. It was later republished as The Saint in England and then The Saint in London. The edition I have has no commercial value, despite being more than 70 years old. Its pages are yellowed, the spine is missing, the cover faded and water-damaged. But it was given to me by my grandmother in 1979, after having been given to her in 1941, already secondhand. The book contains three separate novellas chronicling the adventures of Simon Templar, alias The Saint, and from the opening line of ‘The Simon Templar Foundation,’ I was hooked on Charteris’ jaunty prose and indestructible devil-may-care hero. Forget the rather lame TV adaptations of the 1960s--and the dreadful Val Kilmer film--The Saint of the books is as ruthless as he is debonair. The stories seem incredibly dated now but are still enormously entertaining and appealing. Without this book, I would probably not be writing crime today.”

Barry Eisler, author of Requiem for an Assassin and Rain Storm:

The Havana Room (2004), by Colin Harrison. “If your idea of suspense is a suitcase nuke and dueling cardboard characters, The Havana Room isn’t for you. But if you like more intimate mysteries, deliciously evocative settings, and characters so fully realized that you’re sure the author must be psychic, you have to read The Havana Room. The plot, involving crooked real-estate deals, a lawyer who loses everything after a terrible accident, and the mysterious Havana Room of the title, is certainly engaging, but the real mysteries Harrison writes about are those of the human heart, and he does so with rare confidence and panache.”

Kevin Burton Smith, a contributor to The Rap Sheet and January Magazine, a Mystery Scene columnist, and the editor/creator of The Thrilling Detective Web Site:

Early Autumn (1981), by Robert B. Parker. “Granted, it’s only one of about 400 (and counting) in the Spenser series, but this, the seventh book, is truly special. There is, of course, someone in trouble, and Spenser answers it in his typical, hands-on way. But Early Autumn is more, much more. It’s a somber and withering look at parenting, American style, and unfortunately its relevance hasn’t aged a lick. In his attempts to free young, clueless Paul Giacomin from the clutches of grossly indifferent parents, Spenser, unbowed, defiant and always his own man, has never seemed so heroic or vital. There’s murder of course, and all sorts of hard-boiled shenanigans, but the true victim here is Paul, the disposable child. Any parent worth a damn will squirm. Some people hate this novel, calling it over-reaching and pretentious, but it’s a milestone not just in the author’s career, but in crime fiction. Robert B. Parker may have written better books--and he may still--but it’s hard to imagine him ever writing a more important one.”

Mike Ripley, author of Angel’s Share and a columnist for Shots:

The Holm Oaks (1965), by P.M. Hubbard. “Totally and disgracefully forgotten now, The Holm Oaks is typical of Philip Hubbard’s output of about 15 novels between 1963 and 1979. Small cast of characters, spooky rural setting, lashings of hidden menace. He wrote, uniquely, a sort of English Pastoral Gothic in a distinctive voice which has never been equaled.”

Tom Nolan, author of Ross Macdonald: A Biography:

The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett. “The Thin Man, the fifth and final novel written by Dashiell Hammett, and published in 1934, can hardly be called obscure. Yet despite (and because of) the series of wildly successful semi-comic movies inspired by it, it’s generally dismissed as being at best a frivolous and at worst a worthless book. But Hammett’s works, when reread, perennially surprise you--with how much better they are than you remembered. ‘Hammett did over and over what only the best writers can ever do,’ said Raymond Chandler. ‘He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.’ And there are scenes in The Thin Man as good as any Dashiell Hammett ever wrote.”

Julia Spencer-Fleming, author of All Mortal Flesh:

The Last Witness (2004), by K.J. Erickson. “There’s no mystery at the start of this page-turning police procedural--Minneapolis detective Marshall Bahr and his team know that basketball star Tayron ‘T-Jack’ Jackman murdered his wife. The trick is--can they prove it? Erickson plays scrupulously fair with the reader and still manages to pull off an ending that will blindside you. The real crime is that St. Martin’s never put the full-court press behind this highly talented author.”

Sean Doolittle, author of The Cleanup and Rain Dogs:

Wild Horses (1999), by Brian Hodge. “This crime novel has something for everybody: lyrical prose, soulful characters, an evocative road trip from the barren desert to the boiling bayou, and hard-as-nails action all the way (including unforgettable uses for playing cards and drain cleaner). I loved this book when it appeared in the ’90s, and it continues to supply inspiration on repeat visits.”

Bill Peschel, book critic, blogger, and short-story writer:

Coffin’s Got the Dead Guy on the Inside (1998), by Keith Snyder. “Walker & Company used to publish mysteries, under editor Michael Seidman, that were noted for fine writing, quirky protagonists and, presumably, abysmally low sales, which is why Walker isn’t publishing mysteries anymore. Keith Snyder’s series about electronic musician Jason Keltner combined the sharp dialogue reminiscent of Donald Westlake with the weirdness of living down-and-out in Southern California. He’s one of the few writers whose books I would buy. A book reviewer can give no higher praise.”

John Shannon, author of The Dark Streets:

Night Dogs (1996), by Kent Anderson. “People have called this overlooked novel one of the most accurate and disturbing depictions of the working life of a policeman ever written. But, really, it’s far more than that, since its tormented hero Hanson is the same author’s alter-ego who fought his way through the equally overlooked Vietnam novel Sympathy for the Devil (1987), one of the great tragic depictions of the scarifying and corrupting power of the god of war in trapping young men’s souls. Hanson is out there for all of us, as soldier or cop, struggling with the grim streets, his own fallibilities and doubt, the entire human tragedy. And--with witty, sharp, and surprising prose--Anderson can write like a dream.”

Jon Jordan, co-editor/publisher (with his wife, Ruth) of CrimeSpree Magazine:

Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965), by Chester Himes. “Himes’ series with Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones was ahead of its time, two black cops in Harlem, realistic and gritty as hell. Fast-talking and fast-acting, Coffin Ed and Grave Digger are kind of anomalies: they would make much more as bad guys, but they are driven to do what they can to stop crime in Harlem. Cotton Comes to Harlem was the first one I read. An ex-con setting up a major scam to screw people out of money they can’t afford to lose ends up getting robbed. Himes writes with a depth that even today some writers can’t achieve. [Offering] multiple plots and social commentary with great action, the books still hold up today, and Cotton is my favorite. It was also made into a halfway decent movie.

Charlie Williams, author of King of the Road:

The Lowlife (2001), by Alexander Baron. “This first-person account of a Jewish wideboy in London’s postwar East End is a hell of a piece of writing that achieves tremendous depth. Harryboy is a gambler and proud of it. He doesn’t care what you think and actively embraces his alienation from the world around him. And his is a good life, ‘if you’re not one of the goomps who think there is some virtue in hard work.’ But like all great first-person accounts, this is not a book to be understood on the surface. I’m not sure if Harryboy knows himself better by the end, but the reader does. Published in 1963 and set largely in the era preceding that, it is written with such dazzling assurance that should see it hailed as a classic forever ... if only people would read it.”


Keith Raffel said...

JB Dickey at Seattle Mystery Bookshop told me I had to read Miami Purity. At the time it was out of print (it was just reissued a few weeks ago), so he loaned me his own copy. Hot damn! I still get the shivers every time I go to pick up my laundry.

Anonymous said...

This was very cool to see. Thank you!