A gargantuan, extensively annotated collection of five cornerstones of American crime fiction that every fan will want to own even if they never read (or reread) them.
The docket includes the first appearances of Charlie Chan (Earl Derr Biggers’ The House Without a Key, 1925), Philo Vance (S.S. Van Dine’s The Benson Murder Case, 1926), and Ellery Queen (Ellery Queen’s The Roman Hat Mystery, 1929) as well as Red Harvest (1929), Dashiell Hammett’s first novel about the Continental Op, and Little Caesar (1929), W.R. Burnett’s memorably filmed account of the rise and fall of Chicago gangster Rico Bandello. Although all five novels are indispensable, most of them are more dated than you remember. Charlie Chan’s appeal, which depends on his self-effacing charm and trademark aphorisms, remains constant from one case to the next, but Van Dine, Queen, and Hammett all published better mysteries within a few years of their first novels, and Burnett’s clipped dialogue (“Some guys are sure careless with the lead,” one of his characters says, mourning another’s passing) reads like a pastiche. Philo Vance, widely perceived as insufferable even at the height of his fame, has grown no more companionable over the years, and the early Ellery Queen runs him a close second. If four of the five selections are memorable mainly as period pieces, Red Harvest still seethes with an unsettling power from its nameless hero’s immersion in a mining town’s labor dispute that along the way produces what must be the only chapter in all fiction titled “The Seventeenth Murder.” Indefatigable editor Klinger (In the Shadow of Agatha Christie, 2018, etc.) provides an incisive foreword, annotations that argue, for example, that the events of The Benson Murder Case took place in 1918 and those of The Roman Hat Mystery in 1923, and variously salient pictures of Anthony van Dyck, Al Capone, and King Kal?kaua of Hawaii.
Though die-hard fans may find it disappointing to return to these hoary landmarks, Klinger has provided the perfect gift for newcomers lucky enough not to have read its contents already—and the perfect excuse to wonder if a 1930s sequel may be lurking around the corner.