Question: What one crime, mystery, or thriller novel do you think has been most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years?
John Connolly, author of The Unquiet and The Book of Lost Things:
The Chill (1964), by Ross Macdonald. “This is one of the most perfectly plotted mystery novels in the canon, the kind of book that causes a dropping of the reader’s jaw over its final pages. Macdonald has always suffered a little (a lot) from the perception that he somehow worked in [Raymond] Chandler’s shadow. In fact, at the risk of being heretical, Macdonald was a much better novelist than Chandler, who was a flashier writer, and of Chandler’s best novels--The Long Goodbye and Farewell, My Lovely--the former in particular bears traces of Macdonald’s influence. Yet read The Chill not only for its exquisite plotting and elegant, measured prose, but for the empathy, humanity, and sheer generosity of spirit that infuses every page.”
Linda Fairstein, author of Bad Blood:
“For my money, the legal thriller that sets the bar for courtroom drama and style is Robert Traver’s Anatomy of a Murder. Published 50 years ago, the book became the number-one bestseller at the time, and was also turned into a classy, classic film by Otto Preminger. Traver was a Michigan judge, and the book--set there in the Upper Peninsula--has a great sense of place, as well as a brilliant send-up of the courtroom dynamic, even though the killer’s identity is not at issue. Traver’s narrative eloquence, his ability to turn his legal expertise into a spellbinding story, and his great characterizations of the lawyers as well as the witnesses, makes this book my favorite crime novel of all time.”
Bill Crider, blogger and author of Murder Among the OWLS:
One for Hell (1952), by Jada M. Davis. “I sometimes think the only reason this book hasn’t received a lot more attention is that Fawcett published it in a Red Seal edition rather as a Gold Medal Original, probably because it’s a bit too long for the GM format. A boxcar bum named Willa Ree enters a small town with the intention of picking it clean, and in the process all kinds of secrets and corruption come to light. It’s a fine noir story with a powerful ending that Jim Thompson would have been proud to have written.”
Nathan Cain, blogger, Independent Crime:
The Black Mass of Brother Springer (1958), by Charles Willeford. “You can argue about whether or not The Black Mass of Brother Springer is Willeford’s finest novel, but you can’t argue it’s not his boldest. The story of a failed writer who becomes the pastor of ablack church in Jacksonville, Florida, is scathingly cynical and deeply philosophical at the same time. Willeford takes on race and religion, two of the most sensitive topics anyone can imagine, and manages to skewer everyone on all sides.
“For my money, Sam Springer is an even more existential character than Camus’ Meursault. The situations that Meursault fails to respond to are purely personal ones. Springer, on the other hand, lands in the middle of [America’s] civil-rights movement, one of the great moral battles of the last century, and still manages to remain entirely detached. It’s hilarious and chilling at the same time.”
Andrew Klavan, author of Damnation Street and Shotgun Alley:
“Selected purely for the vastness of the gap between quality and reputation, my one book would have to be The Rose of Tibet , by Lionel Davidson. What makes it so riveting, I think, is the contrast between the plausibility of the voice and the romance of the story. The narrator is an average intelligent Englishman, but the tale he unfolds is as full of adventure and excitement as anything by H. Rider Haggard. [The Rose of Tibet] deserves a much bigger audience--or to be in print, at least.”
Linda L. Richards, the editor of January Magazine, contributor to The Rap Sheet, and author of Calculated Loss and Death Was the Other Woman (2008):
Gun with Occasional Music (1994), by Jonathan Lethem. Neither critics nor readers knew exactly what to do with Jonathan Lethem’s 1994 debut novel. Was it science fiction? Well, kinda. But the tone put it somewhere else. Was it mystery? Well, sorta. But what about those talking kangaroos? The answer, really, is that it’s neither, both and more. If you love classic noir, you’ll love Gun with Occasional Music. Lethem takes the form, gets it right, then spins the whole thing on its ear. Delicious.
Gregg Hurwitz, author of The Crime Writer and Last Shot:
“I’d have to choose a book called Fugitive Moon , by Ron Faust. It is not the type of mystery I generally gravitate toward, since it’s loose and rambling (and I’m more of a structure slut), but the characterization and richness of prose make this a stunning read. A manic depressive pro relief pitcher gets tangled up in a series of murders of transvestites--the crime scenes apparently following his team’s road schedule. No, I’m not joking. I couldn’t believe how good the writing was, sentence for sentence, page after page. And as for the character work--let’s just say that once you meet Moonman, you’re not bound to forget him.”
Maxim Jakubowski, former publisher and owner of London’s Murder One bookshop, and crime-fiction critic for The Guardian:
“Crime is committed for money, for power, for revenge, but for me the most interesting (and believable) crimes are caused by passion. I’m just a sucker for the emotional and physical violence sparked by the conflicts between man and women, by lust, by the flesh. Needless to say, I’m a die-hard James M. Cain fan. I’m pleased to say this sulfurous vein of noir writing continues to this day and it never fails to stimulate me (in the best possible way) and entrance me: Vicki Hendricks, Marc Behm, and the rare appearances in print of Paul Mayersberg are wondrous examples of this much neglected craft. But my vote goes to Kent Harrington’s 1996 first novel The Dark Ride. It caused minor ripples at the time, but has quickly faded from sight and collective memory. Harrington himself has since migrated to the exquisite ghetto of Dennis McMillan’s limited editions, albeit with very different sort of thrillers. It’s darker than night noir, it’s obsessive, it’s that dark side of sex and American relationships that crackles with electricity, it thrills and takes your breath away, with characters of flesh, blood, pettiness, and anger galore. Look it up: you’ll never be the same again.
Duane Swierczynski, author of Severance Package and The Blonde:
“Joe Gores’ Interface (1974) is a book I can’t believe isn’t mentioned (or reprinted) more often. It’s a miracle of style and point of view--and the equal of [Dashiell] Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, in my opinion. With both books, what you see is what you literally get. At no point does Gores dip into the minds of the characters; instead, characterization is delivered by action, description, and dialogue. Few writers attempt this literary highwire act, and with good reason: most of us would end up splattered on the sidewalk. But Gores isn’t just showing off. This technique allows him to hide a series of shocks and surprise you have to read to believe. (Bonus: the book is dedicated to “that Stark villain, Parker--because he’s such a beautiful human being.”) Interface is the toughest, leanest and most innovative private-eye novel I’ve ever read.”
Graham Powell, the editor of CrimeSpot:
Funeral in Berlin (1964), by Len Deighton. “It may seem odd to select a book that was made into a well-known film as unappreciated, but today all of Len Deighton’s ‘Harry Palmer’ books are out of print and not often mentioned among the top rank of spy thrillers. This may be because Deighton treated his spies as less than thrilling--more middle-aged civil servants than James Bond. Deighton’s great innovation was to have his ‘master spy,’ unnamed in the books, recognize the truth that all bureaucratic wage slaves will understand--most of the work he does is nothing more than a colossal waste of time. Despite this, Funeral in Berlin is a gripping account of the attempt to smuggle a Russian scientist through Berlin to the British sector, and deserves a fresh look.”
Colin Cotterill, author of Anarchy and Old Dogs:
“Actually, I don’t read a lot of fiction. I spend what little reading time I have on non-fiction, especially research. What fiction I have read has been big guns. [But] I did spend some time reading local authors here in Thailand, and one who stands out is Christopher G. Moore. His best crime novel was A Killing Smile . I think readers will enjoy looking at the seedy side of Bangkok. He was the original bar-and-underworld writer and he spawned a lot of copycats.”
Marcus Sakey, author of The Blade Itself:
Night Dogs (1996), by Kent Anderson. “Quite simply the finest cop novel I’ve ever picked up. What makes this book so savagely powerful is Anderson’s willingness to get dirty; whether writing about race, class, cruelty, sex, or violence, he unhesitatingly steps into his dark places and reports what he finds with a journalist’s honesty and a poet’s flare.”