This month marks a significant milestone in my association with Kirkus. It was five years ago, in March 2011, that I started writing regularly for the publication’s website. Only a few weeks before that, Molly Brown, then Kirkus’ features editor, had rung me up out of the clear blue sky to ask whether I’d be interested in becoming Kirkus’ lead crime-fiction blogger. At the time, I was using what spare hours I could find between freelance journalism assignments to compose The Rap Sheet, a crime fiction-oriented blog that I’d founded originally (in 1999) as a periodic newsletter for the book review/author interview site January Magazine, and spun off as a separate enterprise in the spring of 2006. Brown said she’d read The Rap Sheet, heard from assorted informants that I would be the best choice for Kirkus’ needs, and offered me the job. After a day’s consideration, I accepted her proposal.
While some elements of the undertaking Brown described never got off the ground, I’m still grateful she talked me into this project. The exposure my work enjoys through Kirkus has been rewarding, and readers have been most generous in their appreciation of my humble efforts over the last half-decade.
With this anniversary upon us, I’ve decided to celebrate by testing my list-making talents. Since the Web is so fond of “memes,” or questionnaires passed around from one blogger to the next, with each recipient invited to give his or her responses to prompts that might entertain or perhaps even educate others, I have decided to create my own themed meme around the number five. Below, you will find a variety of lists that illuminate my personal tastes, biases, and experience relative to crime, mystery, and thriller fiction. After looking these over, I invite you to submit your own picks under those same category headings in the Comments section at the bottom of this page.
5 Crime and Mystery Novelists Best Represented on My Shelves
My office is wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with bookcases, yet I am still far short of adequate storage space for all of my reading material. Part of the reason may be that I own pretty much every book I’ve purchased since I was in high school (which was way longer ago than I prefer to acknowledge). I am not so much a pack rat, though, as I enjoy being reminded of the numerous imaginative paths down which my brain has wandered over the years. Since I started reviewing crime fiction shortly after I graduated from college, nobody should be surprised that my collection of works in this genre is particularly abundant. But novels by five authors are most numerous on the shelves around me: Erle Stanley Gardner, Peter Lovesey, Max Allan Collins, Edward Marston, and Robert B. Parker. Runners-up: Anne Perry, Ross Macdonald, and Loren D. Estleman.
5 Favorite Crime Novelists Who Aren’t Writing Anymore
No, this is not a rundown of deceased wordsmiths, but rather writers who—for one reason or another—seem to have dropped off the publishing map. I would be among the first in line to purchase any new books by these too-long-silent scribblers: Jonathan Valin, who penned 11 novels about Cincinnati, Ohio, private investigator Harry Stoner, beginning with The Lime Pit (1980); Stephen Greenleaf, who produced 14 adventures for San Francisco PI John Marshall Tanner, including Grave Error (1979) and Ellipsis (2000); Karen Kijewski, the author of nine mysteries featuring Sacramento, California, gumshoe Kat Colorado, the last of which was Stray Kat Waltz (1998); Jonathan Rabb, the creator of a trio of tales starring early 20th-century Berlin Detective Inspector Nikolai Hoffner, beginning with Rosa (2005); and Tom Bradby, British journalist and novelist, who seemed well on his way to renown as a historical thriller author with such works as The Master of Rain (2002) and The White Russian (2003), but hasn’t been heard from since the release of Blood Money (2009).
5 Classic Authors Whose Work I Should Have Read, But Have Not
OK, I’m sharing this information with you in utter confidence. Understand? Don’t breathe a word of it to another living soul. For all my experience with this genre, there are contributors whose books I haven’t yet felt the desire or need to read. I know I’ll get around to these five authors someday, but the time has not yet arrived; along with their names are the books for which they are probably best-known: Geoffrey Household (Rogue Male); Mary Roberts Rinehart (The Circular Staircase); John Dickson Carr (The Hollow Man); Edgar Wallace (The Four Just Men); and Francis Iles, aka Anthony Berkeley Cox (Malice Aforethought).
5 Book-Born Private Eyes Worthy of Their Own TV Series
Let’s face it, while the American TV landscape was once rife with freelance crime-solvers, Hollywood in recent years has lost all hope of coming up with interesting new gumshoes. And its recent struggles to pump new life into old protagonists, whether it be Jim Rockford or Philip Marlowe or even Remington Steele, have proven to be downright pathetic. Better that TV producers and writers should turn to some novel characters—and I mean novel as in “born from novels.” Here are five private eyes who have proved themselves more than worthy of small-screen adaptation: post–World War II San Francisco sleuth Miranda Corbie (City of Dragons) created by Kelli Stanley; Michael Koryta’s Cleveland gumshoe, Lincoln Perry (Tonight I Said Goodbye); Laura Lippman’s Baltimore reporter-turned-shamus, Tess Monaghan, who made her latest appearance in last year’s Hush Hush; Loren D. Estleman’s Amos Walker (The Sundown Speech), a bit of a throwback, but in a good way—and his hometown of Detroit offers tremendous images of a once-great metropolis rapidly losing its past while fighting to create a new future for itself; and maybe Bill Pronzini’s Nameless Detective, who was been fighting the good fight around California’s Bay Area since his debut in 1971’s The Snatch, and who his creator has allowed to age and take on younger operatives over the decades.
5 Crime Novels I Can Read Over and Over Again
Given the demands of my job to consume books, it’s rare that I can actually go back and re-read my favorites. But when I do have such opportunities, these are five works sure to draw my attention, and in which I find new nuances with every reading: In a Dry Season (1999), Peter Robinson’s 10th police procedural starring Alan Banks, which finds the Yorkshire detective and his then new partner, Annie Cabbot, digging into local history to discover the truth about a skeleton that had been hidden since World War II in a reservoir-flooded village, but has recently been exposed by drought; Suspension, by Richard E. Crabbe (2000), the tale—rewardingly abundant in its historical detail—of an Irish-American New York City cop, Sergeant Detective Tom Braddock, determined to foil a plot by latter-day Confederates to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge soon after it opened in 1883; The Eighth Circle, by Stanley Ellin (1958), in which we observe a comely schoolteacher, Ruth Vincent, hire high-priced Manhattan PI Murray Kirk to clear her vice cop fiance of corruption charges—only to then watch as Kirk falls hard for his client and begins conceiving of how, by letting her fiance be convicted, he could have her all to himself; Philip Kerr’s A Quiet Flame (2008), which tells the story of cynical, Nazi-hating Berlin ex-cop Bernie Gunther posing as a German criminal in order to escape Europe for Buenos Aires in 1950, where he is promptly recruited to probe the slaying of a young girl—a murder very similar to one Gunther had worked during the early ’30s; and James Crumley’s The Wrong Case (1975), which introduced impecunious Milo Milogovitch, a full-time Montana sleuth and womanizer, and part-time drunk, whose efforts here to locate a missing scholar lead him deep into the violent criminal underworld seething beneath his hometown’s façade.
5 Mysteries I Wish I’d Written
Once upon a time, I imagined spending most of my career as a journalist and then moving into the more creative business of writing novels. That hasn’t happened—at least not yet. But a guy can dream, right? And since I’m dreaming, allow me to fantasize that I had been the author of these five memorable works: Ross Macdonald’s The Underground Man (1971), which finds Los Angeles private eye Lew Archer plunging into a family tragedy that exposes past sins, at the same time as a wildfire menaces the scene of assorted crimes; The Blind Man of Seville, by Robert Wilson (2003), a grimly bewitching drama in which Spanish Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón, head of the Seville Police Department’s homicide division, investigates the brutal slaying of a prominent restaurateur…only to be thereby propelled into a shocking re-examination of the death of his own father, a famous artist; Anne Perry’s A Breach of Promise (1998), the ninth in her series featuring Inspector William Monk, with a spectacular story that builds around an 1860 legal suit leveled against a gifted young architect who supposedly led an heiress to believe he would marry her—but then backed out of the wedding (apparently an actionable offense in Victorian high society); Flying Blind (1998), in which Max Allan Collins imagines his historical “detective to the stars,” Chicago shamus Nate Heller, “solving” the 1937 disappearance of renowned aviatrix Amelia Earhart; and Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1929)—for my money, the best hard-boiled gumshoe yarn every produced.
5 Books I Most Recently Lent to Others
Sorry, I never loan my books out. What do you expect from a guy who’s still in possession of almost every work he’s bought since he last had to worry about pimples?
5 Crime Novels That Would Make Great Book Club Choices
I’ve been part of one book-discussion group or another during most of the last 10 years, but only once have I proposed a crime novel for us all to read—and it was a huge hit. That book was Ted Lewis’ Get Carter (1970), the tale of a London organized-crime enforcer who returns to his hometown in Northern England, bent on learning the truth about his brother’s supposedly accidental death, and not deterred at all by the possibility of stirring up trouble among local thugs. Having now determined that my fellow book clubbers are open to crime and thriller fiction, I look forward to suggesting that we add these other four novels to our reading calendar: Uncivil Seasons (1983), the first in a trio of mysteries set in North Carolina, all starring Detective Justin Savile, the black-sheep descendent of his town’s founding family, and his working-class partner, Cudberth “Cuddy” Mangum; Die a Little (2005), Megan Abbott’s first novel (and the only one of hers I haven’t already read), about a schoolteacher whose curiosity regarding her brother’s new femme fatale of a spouse draws her into some of Los Angeles’ seamier corners; Restless (2006), William Boyd’s yarn about a young woman, Eva Delectorskaya, nurtured in the ways of spycraft during World War II, and her daughter’s struggles many years later to protect Eva from a killer; and finally, a book I’ve already read but would love an excuse to begin all over again—Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night (2013), about comically cranky, 82-year-old Sheldon “Donny” Horowitz, whose impulsive rescue of a boy threatened by a Kosovar war criminal revives what may or may not be his long-dormant sniper skills.