Question: What one crime, mystery, or thriller novel do you think has been most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years?
Michael Marshall, author of The Intruders:
Texas by the Tail (1965), by Jim Thompson. “Everything Thompson did is good. Much of it is truly great. But ... His stories can tend leave you with the feeling that throwing yourself off a cliff wouldn’t be such a bad idea, both for yourself, and the sake of mankind. In Texas by the Tail, while not letting up on his stirringly honest vision of human venality, he for once allowed himself something approaching a ... well, read it for yourself.”
Louise Penny, author of A Fatal Grace and Still Life:
The Franchise Affair (1948), by Josephine Tey. “It’s not a murder mystery, but it’s one heck of a mystery. An elderly woman and her spinster daughter move into a village and immediately a local girl accuses them of kidnapping her and keeping her locked in their home. Did they do it? It’s pithy, brilliantly told, wonderful atmosphere and characters. A nail-biter.”
Steve Lewis, the editor of Mystery*File:
“One crime/mystery/thriller novel that I think has been most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years?
“I started to think about this and my brain froze. Overload. But how about this one? Well, any of William Campbell Gault’s early books will do, those he wrote between 1952 and 1963. His second career began again in 1980, and I confess that I haven’t gotten to any of those yet, but I will.
“Pick one. How about his first one, then? Don’t Cry for Me  is the title, and it’s one of his non-series, non-P.I. books. The leading character is Pete Worden, ex-football star and the scourge of his family, cut off by his brother from his inheritance for his low-life, lackluster attitude and approach to living. Invited to a crime boss’s party, he wins a bundle of cash at a dice game and ends up knocking out one of the losers. He later finds the guy waiting for him in his apartment, dead, with a knife in his throat.
“Gault’s usual complaints about the differences between the moneyed class and the rest of California society are in full force in this book, in his usual light but curmudgeonly way. But it’s not only the clash between classes that concerns him. It’s also the fractures that exist between the educated and not, literature vs. pulp fiction, and wedges that occur even in families, pitting brother against brother--prime examples being Pete and his straight-and-narrow brother John, paired off and contrasted against the crime boss’s two youthful sons, with the surgical precision of a natural-born writer highlighting the differences between them.
“Cynical and sour in general motif, maybe, but it’s also one heck of a detective story. Don’t Cry for Me won the Edgar for the Best First Mystery Novel in 1953.”
Daniel Stashower, author of The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder:
Night of the Jabberwock (1951), by Fredric Brown. “This isn’t an obscure title by any means, but Brown was certainly underappreciated in his lifetime, and this is my favorite of his many excellent books. It’s a fabulous story and a marvel of plot construction, with Brown drawing on his experiences as a newspaper man and his lifelong interest in the works of Lewis Carroll.”
Wallace Stroby, author of The Heartbreak Lounge and The Barbed-Wire Kiss:
Any Cold Jordan, by David Bottoms. “Georgia native Bottoms is best known as a poet, but in the late 1980s he produced two beautifully written crime novels, of which 1987’s Jordan was the first (the second was 1990’s Easter Weekend). Jordan follows Billy Parker, an aimless and angry guitar player whose life is coming apart at the seams and who gets involved in a once-in-a-lifetime heist targeting a local biker gang. Set among the swamps and rivers of North Florida, Any Cold Jordan reads like stripped-down James Dickey. Lyrical but never languid, it’s a finely detailed slice of Southern life that eventually spirals into something much deeper and darker. It’s a beauty.”
Dick Adler, Ellen Nehr Award-winning former crime-fiction critic for the Chicago Tribune, and a Rap Sheet contributor:
“Here’s my contest entry, a book which others as well as I have written about a lot. But it’s still in the ‘neglected’ category--not exactly a financial failure, but it hasn’t made any bestseller lists I know of. It’s The Bridge of Sighs, by Olen Steinhauer, published in 2003, the first in his eye-opening and totally gripping series about cops in an unnamed Eastern Bloc country very much like Romania, where Steinhauer once had a fellowship. Starting in 1948, the books use changing characters to show what life was like in these countries. By the way, the last in the series, Liberation Movements, is due out in paperback this month, and he has a new hardcover called Victory Square coming in August.”
J.T. Ellison, blogger, co-founder of Killer Year, and author of the forthcoming novel All the Pretty Girls:
“I’d like to nominate John Connolly’s Every Dead Thing (winner of the Shamus Award for Best First Novel, 1999).
“Connolly’s first novel in the Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker series sets the tone for the ultimate literary thriller, exploring the depths of true evil, the desolation of a soul lost, and the possibility of redemption. It’s a masterful, poetic compilation of intricacies showcasing the author’s brilliant imagination. This is the introduction to Connolly’s storytelling and diverse cast of characters, and it’s an open invitation to a new world.”
Rick Mofina, author of A Perfect Grave:
Legion (1983), by William Peter Blatty. “Unfairly associated with the flop sequel films to the Exorcist movie, this novel, Blatty’s follow-up to his book The Exorcist is often unfairly dismissed, if it is even considered at all.
“The reprisal of Washington, D.C., homicide cop, Lieutenant Kinderman, is masterful. This book’s opening is brilliant, presented with a caliber of writing and storytelling that stands up to any championed classic. Blatty’s theme, as he described it--the suffering of the innocents confronting evil--is central to most crime fiction. But his poetic handling of it appears to have influenced other thriller writers. Thomas Harris comes to mind.
“Set aside the fact that Legion is a paranormal procedural; it is, above all, a compelling detecitive story. Kinderman deserves a following. I return to him often.”
Andrew Martin, author of Murder at Deviation Junction and The Lost Luggage Porter:
“The best novel of any sort that I’ve read recently is The Small Back Room, by Nigel Balchin. It was published in 1943 and concerns Sammy Rice, a one-legged, alcoholic weapons scientist--a ‘back room boy’ of the Second World War. Half of the tension--strange to say--comes from the office politics of his department. But brewing up in the background is the story of a mysterious German bomb which Sammy must defuse in order to redeem the tawdry compromises of his life. The dialogue is terse and the ending will make you sweat. I’d never heard of Balchin (1908-70) when I picked it up. He does not feature in The Oxford Companion to English Literature.”
Nichelle D. Tramble, author of The Last King:
Madeline’s Ghost, by Robert Girardi. “I love everything about this novel, though it probably doesn’t fall into the traditional mystery category. Published in 1996 and set in New Orleans and Manhattan, Madeline’s Ghost is atmospheric, scary, and has a great lead character. It’s a ghost story, a love story, a Southern drama, a big-city novel, and a literary mystery all rolled into one.”
David Thayer, book reviewer, blogger, and a contributing editor of January Magazine:
“I’d like to nominate The Tropic of Night , by Michael Gruber. This first book in the Jimmy Paz trilogy elevates the thriller genre, tells a complex and absorbing story while introducing both Jane Doe and Paz to readers. Miami is gripped by a series of ritualistic murders, one more bizarre than the next. West African sorcery finds root in the rich soil of South Florida, where ‘anything will grow.’ Jane knows the source of the evil, while Jimmy Paz struggles to end a reign of terror.”
Keith Raffel, author of Dot.Dead:
“Hmm. One book to nominate? How about this one? Rennie Airth’s River of Darkness .
“I’m no fan of serial killer books, and what with Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear we’ve had two high-quality series dealing with protagonists deeply wounded by World War I. So everything in River of Darkness has been done before, but that doesn’t stop it from being a masterpiece. Inspired by the scrapbook of an uncle killed in the Great War, Airth puts the reader in rural 1921 England amidst people who are trying to recover the lost rhythms of prewar life. Only the protagonist, Scotland Yard’s John Madden, realizes that the horror of the Flanders battlefield has risen again when five people in a Surrey village are murdered. The female village doctor tries to help Madden and introduces him to nascent forms of criminal profiling. All the time the killer is moving toward his next victim and his next. I could not put this one down.”