Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Ones That Got Away

The Rap Sheet was first introduced to the reading public on what would’ve been Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 147th birthday (had he not died in 1930). Today, on what would have been Dashiell Hammett’s 113th birthday (he went to his grave in 1961), we introduce this archive of The Rap Sheet’s recent “one book project.” We invited more than 100 crime novelists, book critics, and bloggers from all over the English-speaking world to choose the one crime/mystery/thriller novel that they thought had been “most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years.”

Of the 115 novels selected, only one--Night Dogs (1996), by Kent Anderson--was nominated by three different people. Only four other titles were mentioned twice. And just five writers--Charles Willeford, P.M. Hubbard, Ross Macdonald, Colin Harrison, and Jess Walter--are represented on this tally by more than one book. For a complete list of nominated novels, click here.

What follows are all 10 parts of The Rap Sheet’s “one book project,” arranged here in the order they were posted during the week of May 21-26, 2007. All of the text and book covers are included. If you have questions or comments about this archive, shoot us an e-mail note here, or feel free to install your remarks after the posts below.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

You’re Still the One, Part I

Tomorrow, May 22, will mark The Rap Sheet’s official first birthday. It was just 12 months ago that I launched this blog, hoping it would prove entertaining and perhaps enlightening, and sure that it would be slow to attract a readership. You can judge for yourself on those first two counts; but I was wrong about the last one. Last month, The Rap Sheet counted its 1,000th post and 100,000th visit. That’s a hell of a lot faster than I had expected to clock such statistics. We must be doing something right.

Rather than wait until Tuesday to begin celebrating, we’re going to start today. I considered a number of ways to commemorate The Rap Sheet’s first birthday, but settled on one that I thought would, again, be both entertaining and enlightening. I recently invited scores of crime novelists, critics, and bloggers from all over the world to answer a not-so-simple question: What one crime, mystery, or thriller novel do you think has been most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years? Within the first day, I had 30 responses, and by yesterday, I’d received 100, from writers as diverse as Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, Ian Rankin, Michael Marshall, Rhys Bowen, Peter Temple, Zoë Sharp, Lee Child, Gary Phillips, Sarah Weinman, Barry Eisler, Sara Paretsky, and Declan Hughes. Most of the works they selected were familiar; others were published long ago, and are out of print, but apparently worth tracking down.

Rather than gather all of these into one humongous post, I’ve decided to run the responses on this page over the rest of this week. The first batch appears below, with more to come later today.

I want to thank every generous soul who participated in this survey. I’d also like to invite any notable writers or critics I somehow overlooked, but who are just now reading The Rap Sheet, to e-mail me with their nominations of the most-overlooked or underappreciated crime novel ever. I’ll add them to my mix.

But enough introduction. Let’s get on with the book picks.

George Pelecanos, author of The Night Gardener and Hard Revolution:

Hard Rain Falling (1966), by Don Carpenter. “A stunning, brutally honest entry in the social realist school of crime fiction. Carpenter’s first novel, out of print but easily found, is on par with Edward Bunker’s Little Boy Blue in its shocking depiction of juvenile delinquency and the human cost of incarceration. The best book I read this year, hands down.”

M.J. Rose, author of The Reincarnationist and The Venus Fix:

“I have the perfect book. Literary fiction/murder/suspense. I guess I’d call it a classic Gothic. Gramercy Park, by Paula Cohen. Published in 2002. I’ve been ‘hand-yelling’ it since I read it this winter. (That’s what I call the way I hand sell. I yell about the book on my blog.) I loved this book. In the tradition of Rebecca.

Steve Hockensmith, author of Holmes on the Range and On the Wrong Track:

The Doorbell Rang (1965), by Rex Stout. “Rex Stout was no underdog. He was one of the top dogs of the genre, in his day, and his Nero Wolfe series is still remembered fondly by fans around the world (including me). What’s often forgotten, though, is that Wolfe didn’t just lock horns with the usual assortment of killers and master criminals. In 1965, he took on J. Edgar Hoover. In The Doorbell Rang, Wolfe and wisecracking sidekick Archie Goodwin are hired to help a socialite who’s being harassed by G-men. Her crime: distributing copies of The FBI Nobody Knows, a real-life book that exposed the agency’s abuses of power and undermining of civil liberties. In the end, Archie and Wolfe turn the tables on the feds, blackmailing them with proof of their dirty dealings, and Hoover himself comes to New York to demand a face-to-face meeting. Wolfe’s response when the FBI bigwig rings the doorbell: ‘I have nothing for him. Let him get a sore finger.’ It’s equivalent to Spenser or Elvis Cole giving the finger to Alberto Gonzales, and it ought to be remembered ... and maybe even emulated.”

Jiro Kimura, blogger, The Gumshoe Site:

Dover Beach (1987), by Richard Bowker. “The novel, set in Boston after a nuclear war with Britain in the near future, features Walter Sands, a young man who chooses to become a private eye--the only P.I. in Boston--after reading a lot of private-eye novels. This is more of private-eye fiction than science fiction. P.I. fiction fans might like this novel, but it has been ignored by many mystery readers, maybe because it has been categorized as science fiction. Recently, I found out that it was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States.”

Robert Ferrigno, author of Prayers for the Assassin and Scavenger Hunt:

Stone City (1990), by Mitchell Smith, is a true buried treasure. Long out of print, it’s an unremittingly grim story set in an unnamed Midwestern prison, where a former history professor has been sentenced for killing a girl while driving drunk. Fun does not ensue. It is by turns a sociological study of inmate dynamics, an ass-clenching thriller, and a powerful morality play. Guilt ridden and in full survival mode, the former professor is forced by the prison authorities to try and solve a series of inmate murders, a task which forces him to navigate scenes of harrowing violence, and passionate, shank-wielding lovers. The political maneuvering of the various prison gangs and warlords puts any of the State Department’s soft-shoe diplomats to shame. An unrelentingly honest and powerful work of fiction whose coda should be illumination through pain. When published, the reviewer for Library Journal called it ‘a fine novel with strong best-seller potential.’ Right. It sank like an anvil.

Stone City has been out of print since about 1991 but is still available used from Amazon and other outlets. I believe Busted Flush Press, a small outfit in Houston, Texas, run by David Thompson of Murder by the Book, is planning to reprint it any time now.”

Paul Johnston, author of The Death List and The Golden Silence:

“I nominate Nicholas Freeling and Gun Before Butter [1982]--crazy title, pretty crazy novel. Although the Dutch Inspector Van der Valk became a popular star on British TV in the ’70s, the novels are much darker and harder to follow--the latter especially, as Freeling had a style that’s sometimes hard to penetrate. He was also a professional chef. Not exactly your typical crime writer, and one who would be lucky to get a contract these days, more’s the pity.”

Gar Anthony Haywood, author of Firecracker and All the Lucky Ones Are Dead:

“While it hasn’t exactly flown completely under the radar of public attention, I don’t think Lawrence Block’s Eight Million Ways to Die [1982] has received anywhere near the credit it deserves for turning the P.I. subgenre on its head. Until I stumbled upon the book way back in the early ’80s, I had never read a crime novel with a P.I. in the lead that was written so close to the bone and, far more importantly, was so utterly devoid of the macho-man posturing that had forever been a fixture of the form. Matthew Scudder was a revelation, and I believe we have he and Larry Block to thank for the more serious, realistic, and introspective turn the P.I. novel has taken ever since the publication of Eight Million Ways to Die.

Charles Ardai, publisher of Hard Case Crime books and author (as Richard Aleas) of Songs of Innocence:

“My nomination for underappreciated novel is The Red Right Hand [1978], by Joel Townsley Rogers. It has become something of a cult favorite among the cognoscenti over the past few decades, but the average reader has still never heard of it or of its author. And it’s one of the few books that literally left me breathless when I turned the last page. A brilliant, borderline-insane stew of logic and illogic, Swiss-watch plot construction and bald-faced coincidence, and delicious, bone-cracking suspense, The Red Right Hand is sui generis. If you’re a traveler, you have to visit Paris once in your life; if you’re a gourmand, you have to taste black truffles; and if you’re a mystery reader, you have to read The Red Right Hand. It’s an experience not to be missed.”

Megan Abbott, film historian, author of The Song Is You, and periodic contributor to The Rap Sheet:

“That rare novel that works as harrowing thriller and razor-sharp political allegory, Stona Fitch’s Senseless (2001) tells the story of Eliott Gast, an American economist, kidnapped by anti-globalization terrorists whose particular brand of torture is as creative as it is horrifying. Holding your breath throughout this slim volume, you find yourself clinging to the spaces in between the scenes of almost unspeakably grisly (yet pointed) violence--and in those spaces you find gorgeously rendered reveries from Gast’s past, lush memory fugues that provide canny parallels to Gast’s wretched present. Not to be missed.”

Peter Guttridge, crime-fiction critic (The Observer), film critic (Shots), and author of the Nick Madrid series (Cast Adrift):

The Deadly Percheron (1946), by John Franklin Bardin. “It’s almost 30 years to the day that I read this in a Penguin omnibus of four Bardin novels edited by the late great Julian Symons. It was the weirdest crime novel I’d come across. I reread it last year when it was reissued with an introduction by Jonathan “Motherless Brooklyn” Lethem. It’s STILL the weirdest crime novel I’ve come across. It starts with a man with a scarlet hibiscus in his hair telling a psychiatrist that a leprechaun gives him instructions and asking if he is mad. What follows is a murder mystery, a bit of a love story, and an hallucination where memory and madness clash. A one-off.”

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.”

You’re Still the One, Part III

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 [1962], 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 [1995], 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 [2004]. 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.”

You’re Still the One, Part IV

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

Stuart M. Kaminsky, author of Always Say Goodbye and The Dead Don’t Lie:

“This is an easy one. The book I think has been overlooked and underappreciated is Jonathan Valin’s The Lime Pit (1980).

“Valin’s novel is powerful and brilliantly filled with difficult-to-forget characters, including the protagonist, private eye Harry Stoner. There is a client so haunting that I have channeled her near-clone in one of my novels. Valin wrote fewer that a half dozen Stoner novels set in and around Cincinnati. All are gems. They never caught on, never got an audience, while far lesser talents became best sellers. It would be great if some enterprising publisher picked up the Stoner novels. I would read them all again and recommend them to all lovers of hard-boiled mysteries.

“My back-up forgotten mystery novel is James Sallis’ The Long-Legged Fly (1992).”

Allan Guthrie, author of Hard Man:

Bodies Are Dust, by P.J. Wolfson. “First published in 1931 by The Vanguard Press, this is the story of a big-city cop who murders his best friend and takes up with the widow. The protagonist is described on the cover of the Lion Books edition (1952) as ‘an evil man with a streak of good.’ What I love about this book is the way Wolfson out-Hammetts Hammett. Same detached style, but the emotions are extraordinarily powerful. Astonishingly poignant dénouement.”

Janet A. Rudolph, editor of Mystery Readers Journal:

The Pew Group (1980), by Anthony Oliver. “This is a true British comedy/farce featuring the outrageous Lizzie Thomas and her companion in crime, John Webber. This is the first of four comedic mysteries by world-renown Staffordshire antiques dealer and critic Anthony Oliver. Starting from the first murder (‘She didn’t mean to do it, but somehow Doreen Corder’s foot went out just as her detested husband reached the top of the stairs’), this book will keep you entertained and educated in the world of Staffordshire figures. You’ll probably not eat ham at a funeral anytime soon, either.”

Bob Morris, author of Bermuda Schwartz:

True Grit (1968), by Charles Portis. “I never see it pop up on mystery lists. That’s probably because, sadly, it is best remembered as a John Wayne movie, where he played the sheriff Rooster Cogburn. But it is a marvelous story, one with real spunk and a true voice. Here is the wonderful beginning:
People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.

Here is what happened.
“I try to sit down with it at least once a year. I hope that others might enjoy it, too.”

Tom Cain, author of The Accident Man:

“It seems crazy nominating an Edgar-winner as an ‘unjustly neglected novel,’ but Jason Goodwin’s The Janissary Tree (2006) made very little impact when it was published in hardback in the UK, so maybe it’s time someone got up and explained why American jurors gave it their crime-writing Oscar. The book introduces a new detective, Yashim Togalu. He’s a eunuch, living in Istanbul in 1836, and he’s summoned by the Sultan to investigate the death of one of his concubines in the Imperial Palace. Meanwhile, the seraskier, or commander of the Sultan’s armed forces, wants Yashim to solve another murder, of a young guards officer. So there we are, not even a dozen pages in, and already a web of court intrigue, conspiracy, and violence has begun to be woven. But the plot--fast, well-handled, and intriguing, though it may be--is not the real delight of The Janissary Tree. That comes from Goodwin’s fantastic ability to convey the atmosphere, appearance, sounds, and smells of a great city, far away in time and space. He clearly knows his subject so well that he can present information and detail in a totally unforced way--this is like a more literary equivalent of Lindsey Davies’ Falco stories, set in ancient Rome--taking the reader by the hand on an amazing journey through an extraordinary place. I can quite see how a jury-panel, faced with a bunch of procedurals and autopsy-fests, set in near-identical police stations and morgues could have been inspired by something as unique and original as The Janissary Tree. I happened to buy a copy last year because someone told me Goodwin lived near me in West Sussex--it was my greatest and least expected literary pleasure of the past 12 months.”

Anthony Neil Smith, blogger, former editor of Plots With Guns, and author of The Drummer:

A Clod of Wayward Marl, by Rick DeMarinis. “Snubbed by bigger publishers, who were afraid literary writer DeMarinis’ venture into noir was a big mistake, this novel has been criminally neglected, despite great reviews when it hit the shelves in 2001. The novel is a tribute to the great James Crumley and others like him, pulp writers with ambition who end up teaching at universities (usually stringing together one visiting writer gig after another).

Half campus novel, half drunken high-pulp romp--and then there’s some high-tech virtual reality tossed in--Clod is a love song to noir and the writers who lust after it, even if that means they’re eternally swimming against the riptide.”

James O. Born, author of Escape Clause:

“My favorite crime novel, which happened to be overlooked for the most part, is Ken Bruen’s The Guards [2001]. It’s a brilliant depiction of a man torn apart by his own demons who strives to do right. Bruen is not afraid of having his hero do bad things, as well. The style, pace and tone all come together for one of the greatest crime novels ever.”

Peter Abrahams, author of Nerve Damage:

“The book I’d like to recommend is Stamboul Train (sometimes called Orient Express), by Graham Greene, published in 1932. Greene is hardly a forgotten figure, but I don’t think what he called his ‘entertainments’ are widely read these days. Stamboul Train is my favorite of these. Most crime fiction writers don’t rise above the plotting level. The better ones write about interesting characters. But only the best are capable of introducingthematic material, making the story mean something. Greene does it all, and so smoothly, in Stamboul Train.

Caroline Todd (alias “Charles Todd” when writing with her son, Charles), co-author of A False Mirror:

“I always felt that Crow In Stolen Colors (2000), by Marcia Simpson should have won an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. It was nominated, but lost to The Ice Harvest [by Scott Phillips]. ... Liza Romero chooses the desolate islands off the coast of southeastern Alaska as a place to heal after her husband’s death. Buying an old schooner she can handle herself, she supplies villages with no other access but by water. It’s a challenging life, and descriptions of this world and its people are not only well done but absorbing to this reader. The mystery involves a young boy she rescues from the water and the circumstances of his near-drowning. Because he can’t talk--or refuses to talk--she is afraid to turn him over to what might be the same people who have tried to kill him. And she cannot trust the Native American policeman who has no use for whites, even though he breaks through the boy’s silence. And the policeman in turn suspects her of being involved with the people stealing carvings and other artifacts from these island tribes. Hence the title, A Crow In Stolen Colors.

“I happen to like books that step away from the ordinary run of plots and work with characters and places that are unfamiliar to most of us. Glynn Marsh Alam’s Dive Deep and Deadly [2000], the first of her Florida series about a diver who helps the police from time to time, is another. They deserve recognition for what they offer--a fresh and intriguing look at a different kind of story, setting, and people. Therein lies the richness of the mystery genre.”

Peter Temple, author of The Broken Shore:

“Australian writer Robert Wallace [aka Robin Wallace-Crabbe] deserves to be better known. If you enjoy stylish prose and lightly worn specialist knowledge, you’ll enjoy his series featuring art forger Essington Lewis. My favorite is To Catch a Forger (1988).”

Anthony Rainone, a contributor to both The Rap Sheet and January Magazine:

“I'm selecting The Jugger (1965), by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake).

“This is a personal favorite Parker novel. How’s this for underdog status: not only is the book out of print, but Westlake is on record saying he doesn’t like the novel. Authors are usually the least informed about their own books, however. It is a gem. Parker is in Sagamore, Nebraska, and he’s looking to kill safecracker Joe Sheer. Joe knows way too much about Parker, whom he’s willing to sell out. Before Parker could silence him, Joe turns up dead. That’s when the fun starts. This is a tour de force novel in the series.”

Robert J. Randisi, author of Everybody Kills Somebody Sometime and co-author (with Vince Van Patten) of The Picasso Flop:

“I choose Finding Maubee, by A.H.Z. Carr. When it came out in 1972 it won the Edgar for Best First novel. [It’s] a procedural set in Jamaica, which was made into an enjoyable 1989 movie with Denzel Washington, called The Mighty Quinn. Unfortunately, before [Carr] could write any more, or--I believe--even before the book was published, the author died. ... I would have loved to see what this author would have done next.”

You’re Still the One, Part V

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 [1951], 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 [2002], 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 [1984], 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 [1907], 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 [1958] and Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate [1959]. 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.”

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.”

You’re Still the One, Part VII

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

Simon Kernick, author of Severed and Relentless:

Get Carter (original 1970 title: Jack’s Return Home) by the late, great Ted Lewis, remains for me the seminal British gangster novel of all time, even now, close to 40 years after it was written. Violent, uncompromising, and with a stark, minimalist prose style that was somehow beautifully evocative, it was a major influence on my own writing. I suddenly realized there was decent British noir fiction out there, and with some of the best one-liners I’ve ever read, many of which made it to the 1971 movie, starring Michael Caine. One that didn’t, and is still my all-time favorite: ‘He was the type of fat man that fat men loved to stand next to.’”

Christa Faust, blogger, writer of horror short stories, and author of the forthcoming novel Money Shot:

“It was tough to pick just one, but my vote goes to Douglas E. Winter’s Run (2001), because I’m amazed at the number of people who give me a blank look when I mention it. A bad guy’s bad day goes from bad to worse, and nothing is what it seems in this adrenaline fueled, high-caliber crime thriller about gunrunners and gangstas and government corruption. Like guns? You’ll love Run.”

David Liss, author of The Ethical Assassin:

Bodies Electric (1993), by Colin Harrison. “Most thrillers miss the point. No one cares if the bad guys plan to kill the president or take over the world or hide the truth about a deity. Thrillers work best when they’re about real people in real trouble, and if the trouble is on a small scale--the fear of being beaten up or losing a job--it can still hit you like a sledgehammer. No one is better at writing gripping thrillers about ordinary people than Colin Harrison, and Bodies Electric is probably his best novel, and maybe the best thriller ever written. The story is simple enough: workaholic widower Jack Whitman becomes involved with sexy Dolores Salcines, who is on the run from her terrifyingly menacing husband, Hector. Jack must balance the dangers of his relationship with Dolores with corporate shenanigans that can either elevate or destroy him. The book works because it is peopled with real, often flawed, characters who care deeply about the things they want, and who live in perpetual danger of losing everything.”

Ed Gorman, veteran editor, blogger, and author of Fools Rush In:

How Like an Angel [1962], by Margaret Millar, has always struck me as the best-plotted and best-written mystery I’ve ever read. This story of a tapped-out private eye who finds himself in a cult religious compound is as devious as Christie and as emotionally powerful as anything her husband, Ross Macdonald, ever wrote. The same can be said for her novel A Stranger in My Grave [1960].”

Sarah Weinman, blogger, Los Angeles Times book critic, short-story writer, and a contributing editor of January Magazine:

The Late Man (1993), by James Preston Girard. “Simply put, if there’s a book I want to emulate, copy, steal or pilfer, The Late Man is it. Running in the background is the once-dormant investigation of a BTK-type serial killer (who places roses by each victim’s side) that flares up once again when a new victim is discovered. Though there is a resolution, the book is really about the lives and flaws of its three main protagonists: police Captain L.J. Loomis, journalist Sam Haun (the “late man,” because he works the overnight shift at the paper), and rising star Stosh Babicki. Each character wrestles with palpable demons, mostly to do with failing relationships. Loomis has lost his wife to another man and misses her and their children--whom he does not see--terribly. Haun’s wife, Claire, and younger son are dead, and in the aftermath he chances upon Claire’s diary, confessing in great detail to an affair with the newspaper’s main boss ... who, at this time, is having his own affair with the intelligent but impressionable Babicki. Is that affair a case of real love, or manipulation, or something in between? Babicki doesn’t really know for sure, but, as she discovers, it’s a vice from which she must ungrip herself.

The Late Man is ultimately about loss of every kind, and Girard writes of such things with an almost terrible knowledge; even if he didn’t know about it personally, his characters do, and very well at that. Though at times uncomfortable, the writing is so beautiful and understated that the emotional heft packs a wallop. What’s also gripping is what is left unspoken and unresolved; Girard doesn’t hit the reader over the head with revelations and conclusions but allows them to find them out of their own accord. It’s intelligent writing that’s extremely well-done and worth bringing back into print sooner rather than later.”

Lee Child, author of Bad Luck and Trouble:

No Highway (1948), by Nevil Shute. “Might have sold well at the time--I wasn’t born yet--but it seems very underappreciated to me. It’s a seminal ordinary guy/extraordinary circumstances techno-thriller, and a man-of-integrity tale, and it has some romance and great suspense ... the hero does ‘A,’ which is a very bad thing unless ‘B’ also happens, in which case it’s a very good thing ... we wait and wait, and sure enough ‘B’ happens: vindication, closure, and redemption.”

Jeff Shelby, author of Wicked Break:

California Fire and Life (1999), by Don Winslow. “Despite the fact that it won the Shamus, people rarely mention this title when discussing the pantheon of great private investigator novels and I think there are several reasons why. It isn’t part of a series, Jack Wade isn’t your traditional gumshoe, and the entire story revolves around an arson investigation. And yet it still contains so many elements of great P.I. novels--a flawed hero, lost love, wasted opportunities. Add in Winslow’s ability to put words together in a unique and lyrical fashion and a story that just rips along, and you have a book that should start any discussion of great P.I. novels. It is just a hauntingly beautiful work.”

Ali Karim, the assistant editor of Shots and a regular contributor to The Rap Sheet, January Magazine, Deadly Pleasures, and CrimeSpree Magazine:

Blackburn (1993), by Bradley Denton. “This is the story of Jimmy Blackburn, a boy who is lied to, beaten, brutalized from childhood, and grows up on the dark side of the American dream, eventually becoming a serial killer. The novel shows the hypocrisy and absurdity of modern America. It’s partly social commentary, partly black comedy, and a full-blown, surreal, and cynical look at modern life when the moral compass malfunctions. Free from moral judgments, and written in an easygoing style, this novel captivated me from word one. There is much black humor in the narrative, as Blackburn flips back and forth in time, using the killings as the basis of each chapter. The denouement is tragic, but in a strange way uplifting, as all Blackburn needed was love to survive the harshness of a world he struggles to comprehend. The need for a boy to have the love of his father (in order to find his moral compass) is something that many do not fully understand, and this work shows the dangers to society when that love is denied.

“It is a pity that Blackburn is not more widely known, as it contains a forceful message about the human condition and is in my opinion a must-read for anyone interested in crime fiction. I have read this work several times since it first appeared. Discovering it was, for me, a revelation.”

Giles Blunt, author of By the Time You Read This (aka The Fields of Grief):

The Fiend in Human (2002), by John MacLachlan Gray. “A terrific murder mystery set in Victorian London, in which a scuffling journalist must battle cops, colleagues, and hookers in order to stop a serial killer. Exuberant detail expressed in exuberant language will prove a delight to readers who expect a little more from their thrillers. The dialogue is crisp and witty, and the plot clatters along like a Victorian coach picking up one vivid character after another. A book that really deserves a much wider readership.”

Kevin Guilfoile, author of Cast of Shadows (aka Wicker):

“Full disclosure, I know Sean Chercover. His first novel, Big City, Bad Blood [2007], was released on the same day as another terrific debut, also set in Chicago and also written by a swell local guy. It turned out to be a mixed blessing for Sean, as Marcus Sakey’s The Blade Itself had quite a bit of (much-deserved) hype behind it, and while he enjoyed a little extra review coverage by drafting behind the bigger release, I think Sean's book got lost a bit squeezing through the narrow window of hardcover publishing. It deserves some hype of its own.

“Sean is a former P.I. and Big City, Bad Blood is filled with authentic details. (Or authentic-sounding anyway--how would I know?) The real test is my father-in-law, a retired South Side Chicago contractor and stone mason and a voracious reader of crime novels. I frequently lend him books I’ve enjoyed, and two out of three of them come back the next day after only a few chapters. When he returned Sean’s novel he tapped the cover (almost as if he were chiding me for my lesser recommendations) and said, ‘Now THAT one was pretty good.’ Considering the high standards of the source, they ought to make that the lead blurb on the paperback.”

Ben Hunt, Material Witness blogger:

“I’d like to nominate Citizen Vince [2005], by Jess Walter. On more than one occasion while reading Citizen Vince, I had to recheck the cover and the author’s biography to remind myself that this book wasn’t written by Elmore Leonard. It could have been. This story of a minor mob figure relocated to Spokane, Washington, by the FBI’s witness protection program in the late 1970s is funny, smart, thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, and deserves a far wider audience than it has so far earned. Passages describing Vince grappling with the pros and cons of the candidates in the first election he has been eligible to vote in--the Carter/Reagan presidential race [of 1980]--are laugh-out-loud funny but also suffused with a streetwise wisdom that pricks the absurdity and pomposity of politicians and politics with the sharpest of thrusts.”

James R. Winter, author of Northcoast Shakedown, a contributing editor of January Magazine, and a regular contributor to CrimeSpree Magazine:

“Philip Roth’s The Human Stain [2000], an acclaimed literary novel, is often overlooked in crime-fiction circles precisely because it’s by one of America’s literary darlings. Actually, it’s part of the “Zuckerman Chronicles,” but Nathan Zuckerman is merely an observer in this dark tome.

“The plot centers on the affair between Professor Coleman Silk, a black man passing himself off as Jewish, and illiterate janitor Faunia Farley, a woman young enough to be Silk’s daughter and fleeing an abusive marriage to a damaged Vietnam vet with a jealous streak. At first glance, however, the main story seems to be Silk’s ironic dismissal from his college for being a racist. Silk would rather be done in by an unfortunate (and rather innocent) choice of words than reveal the truth about himself. The story is one only Roth could tell, but at its core lies a thriller worthy of James M. Cain himself.”