Question: What one crime, mystery, or thriller novel do you think has been most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years?
Ian Rankin, New York Times Magazine serial novelist and author of The Naming of the Dead:
“My choice would be Night of the Jabberwock , by Fredric Brown. I’m not sure what he was on when he wrote it, but it should be given out freely to other authors! I found it in a three-novel compendium published by a small UK press in the early 1980s, but the book was written ... I dunno, in the ’50s I think. Anyway, it’s a mind-blower: takes place over a night shift in a small American town; strange activities are afoot, and they all seem to owe something to Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwock poem. By the end, it just about makes sense and most of the loose ends have been neatly tied, but the central conceit still staggers me ... and it is fresh, well-written and entertaining.”
Sara Paretsky, author of Fire Sale and the new memoir Writing in an Age of Silence:
A Town of Masks (1952), by Dorothy Salisbury Davis. “Like all of Davis’ work, it’s an unflinching look at what every human being is capable of doing, out of jealousy or neediness or loneliness, but the protagonist breaks my heart every time I revisit this novel.”
Gary Phillips, author of Bangers, creator of P.I. Ivan Monk, and columnist for Mystery Scene magazine:
“Man, there are simply too many crime/mystery/thriller books that have been overlooked. But just to mix it up a bit, I’ll nominate Daddy Cool (1974), by Donald Goines. As several crime cognoscenti have noted, this is arguably Goines’ best work in that the story involves a middle-class, middle-aged ruthless hit man named Larry Jackson, known to friends and foes as Daddy Cool, trying to save his wild teenage daughter Janet from ‘the Life.’ He is doomed for his efforts, of course, but he has no choice but to embrace his fate with open arms--a fate that some have noted has a distinct Shakespearean quality to it.
“As a point of trivia, I suspect I’m one the few people that own the original (since Goines’ publisher, Holloway House, cut up the pages and recently reprinted it in paperback form) 1984 graphic novel Holloway House produced of Daddy Cool, adapted by Don Glut and drawn and inked by the late Alfredo Alcala.”
Christopher G. Moore, creator of P.I. Vincent Calvino and author of The Risk of Infidelity Index:
“I’m nominating Brian Moore (no relation by the way). ... A number of literary authors have also penned crime fiction or thrillers under a pen name: Gore Vidal, Julian Barnes, and Cecil Day Lewis spring to mind. Three-times-Booker-nominee Brian Moore should be added to the list. Under the name “Michael Bryan,” Brian Moore wrote Intent to Kill for Gold Medal in the late 1950s. The novel has a political dimension, as the doctor caught in a love triangle is slated to perform brain surgery on a South American dictator. The doctor is unaware that the dictator has more than the usual set of medical problems; the dictator not only has appointment for surgery, but also one scheduled with an assassin. A film based on Intent to Kill was released this year, but the book has long been out of print.”
Peter Spiegelman, author of Red Cat:
Tomato Red (1998), by Daniel Woodrell. “A harrowing, piercing, yet surprisingly funny book by the most underappreciated novelist working today. Woodrell is a brilliant, poetic storyteller, and the characters he creates in Tomato Red (drunks, tweakers, whores, thieves, and other citizens of the margins), as damaged, thwarted, and angry as they are, are nonetheless heartbreaking and heroic. Woodrell plays with genre conventions but always defies expectations, and the fact that Red (and so many other of his books) are out of print in the United States is criminal. Woodrell is a writer’s writer--a hero to most of the best writers I know--and like all great artists his work both opens your eyes to the possibilities of the medium, and makes you feel as if you’ve got an awful lot to learn. His really ought to be a household name.”
Bruce Grossman, “Bullets, Broads, Blackmail & Bombs” columnist for Bookgasm:
Solomon’s Vineyard (1941), by Jonathan Latimer. “For a book that was written back in the ’40s, it still kicks major ass. It’s as if Latimer took the noir genre and ratcheted it up to 11. It reads like the Coen Brothers took a shot at rewriting Red Harvest. It’s the basic story of a detective hired to protect a girl from a bizarre religious cult. But if it was just that it would seem like a typical noir book. Throw in a dead partner, a mob boss, kinky sex, and grave robbing ... and those are only a few highlights. Latimer characters seem like extreme versions of the noir archetypes. A detective that makes Mike Hammer look like a piker. A femme fatale that will make you pant. Then a shock of a surprise that will divide the readers. From the opening sentence I was hooked. Probably one of the best in my opinion: ‘From the way her buttocks looked under the black silk dress, I knew she’d be good in bed.’
“This book screams to be rediscovered and given better treatment--instead of the print-as-you go versions that it wallows in currently.”
Ann Cleeves, Dagger Award-winning author of Raven Black and Hidden Depths:
“My ‘underdog’ novel is The Depths of the Forest , by Eugenio Fuentes ... I’m a great fan of translated European fiction and this is a tremendous book, atmospheric, powerful, and human.
“Gloria, a beautiful young painter is killed in the wilderness of Paternoster, a Spanish National Park. Reluctant P.I. Ricardo Cupido is hired to find her murderer and becomes fascinated by her. He investigates her past, tracking down friends, relatives, and lovers in the region where she died and in Madrid. This is a story about the attachment to place, obsession, and the power of landscape. It’s also an enthralling crime novel.”
Shane Maloney, author of Sucked In:
“My nomination is Miami Blues , by Charles Willeford. In fact, any of the Hoke Moseley series (New Hope for the Dead, Sideswipe, The Way We Die Now). Willeford’s deadpan prose, his down-but-undefeated protagonist and the hilariously psychopathic killer make this book one to die for.”
Max Allan Collins, author of Black Hats (as Patrick Culhane) and A Killing in Comics:
“Of the major hard-boiled writers of the Black Mask era, Horace McCoy is unjustly forgotten. Even his one acknowledged classic, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1936), has been out of print for years. But the truly criminal omission from bookshelves and critical appraisals is Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1948), one of the toughest, strangest, and strongest crime novels of the 20th (or hell, any) century. A harrowing first-person account of a psychopath, with hints at an upper-class upbringing and an Ivy League education, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is the template for Jim Thompson’s similar works--without this novel, it’s doubtful there’d be a Jim Thompson to read, much less praise. The [James] Cagney film version, a sort of low-rent White Heat, is entertaining but only hints at the madness and poetry of McCoy’s neglected masterpiece, shocking in its off-hand violence and with an oddly moving love story filtered through Dillinger-era ambience.”
Martin Edwards, author of The Arsenic Labyrinth:
“Israel Rank , by Roy Horniman, is one of the most astonishingly overlooked crime novels of all time. Now, there are plenty of terrific crime novels that are bizarrely neglected. But the odd thing about Horniman’s novel is that it provided the source material for a film that is widely acknowledged as one of the best British movies of all time, Kind Hearts and Coronets. The film came out almost 40 years after Horniman’s novel was published, and for all its many virtues, is in some respects a gentler and less powerful piece of work than the book. Horniman never wrote anything remotely as good afterwards. But this story of an Edwardian serial killer is a masterpiece.’”
Stephen Miller, Mystery Scene’s “In the Beginning” columnist, and a contributor to both January Magazine and The Rap Sheet:
“Before Michael Chabon discovered Sitka, Alaska, and set his most recent novel (The Yiddish Policemen’s Union) there, Sitka was the home of John Straley’s private eye, Cecil Younger. Younger first appeared in Straley’s debut novel, The Woman Who Married a Bear, which went on to win the Shamus Award for Best First Novel published in 1992. Short on plot but long on setting and majestic style, Younger is hired to investigate the murder of a Native American hunting guide. It was the beginning of a series that went on for another five books. All of Straley’s books are marvelous, but I have a soft spot in my heart for his debut. It’s a gem.”
Robert S. Levinson, author of Where the Lies Begin:
“What sounded so easy turned into a real thinking game.
“I continually returned to two novels of yore that reek of familiarity because of their titles, but I’d bet it’s because readers know them from film and not the printed page: Robert Traver’s Anatomy of a Murder  and Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate . As good as the movies were, the books were better, of major influence to the genre at the time and, thus, ever after.
“Anatomy was the prototype of the modern courtroom thriller, proved there could be more to courtroom stories than the entertainments Erle Stanley Gardner provided with Perry Mason. Manchurian is the very definition of a page-turner, impossible to put down once picked up, an absolute guarantor of a sleepless night.
“So that’s my one book--a tie.”