Lest They Be Forgotten…

Classic crime novels are gaining a new and younger audience. When you’ve run through the usual suspects like Sayers, Doyle, Chesterton, or Marsh, who do you turn to next or do you re-read them once more? How about tracking down some oft’ forgotten male writers. Last time I wrote about female crime writers. As with the writers discussed in the last article, many of these works have been made into old time radio shows, films, or television so you have a lot of fun ahead of you!

  1. If you like a good heist book, try reading French writer, Maurice LeBlanc’s adventures featuring the gentleman burglar, Arsène Lupin introduced in 1905. Intelligent and charming, Lupin starred in numerous novels and short stories. LeBlanc even had Sherlock Holmes in some of his stories but when Doyle complained, the character was renamed Herlock Sholmès.
  1. Contemporises of LeBlanc, Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre wrote the Fantômas novels together until Souvestre’s untimely death. Allain continued them until the 1960s. The character of Fantômas is ruthless and much more sinister than Lupin, evening exhibiting sociopathic leanings.
  1. While Willard Huntington Wright was recovering from a lengthy illness, his doctor suggested he try reading detective fiction. What resulted was the character of Philo Vance, an amateur sleuth with a brilliant mind. Wright wrote under the pseudonym, S. S. Van Dine. Vance appeared throughout the 1920s and ‘30s both in book form and films, the first four played by William Powell, who went on to play Nick Charles in The Thin Man All in all there were twelve Vance novels among other works. His article entitled Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories appeared in September of 1928 in The American Magazine and outlined what to avoid when writing detective fiction.
  1. The most obscure of this list is perhaps a UK writer from the Golden Age, Clifton Robbins. The first book Dusty Death(1931) featured barrister/amateur sleuth Clay Harrison. His novels were published between 1931 and 1941 when Robbins apparently stopped writing.
  1. George Harmon Coxe wrote for Black Mask when he introduced his readers to Jack ‘Flash’ Casey, a crime photographer. Casey remained in the public eye from the 1930s to the 1960s in several iterations in radio serials and later as a television series. He also created, Kent Murdoch, also a crime photographer a more successful novel character than Casey. He appeared in books from the ‘30s to the ‘50s. His third series character, P.I. Jack Fenner, first appeared in the Murdock series. Aside from these, he wrote several standalones, short stories, and a magazine series featuring character named Paul Standish.
  1. In the U.K., Edwy Searles Brooks began writing his adventurous Sexton Blake stories in 1912, and by 1917 he was producing serials known as the St. Frank’s series. Writing under various pen names, he churned out hundreds of stories. Under the pseudonym, Victor Gunn he wrote about the protagonist Chief Inspector Bill “Ironsides” Cromwell and his sidekick, Sergeant Johnny Lister in the weekly magazine, The Thriller Library.
  1. William P. McGivern’s pulp stories and gritty crime novels. Many were made into films by the same titles, such as The Big Heat and Odds Against Tomorrow. McGivern’s portrayal of gangsters, tough cops, and corrupt politics was often the subject matter revealing the gritty side of American life. In later years he wrote episodes for such television shows as Adam 12, O’Hara, S. Treasury, and Kojak. 
  1. The prolific U.K. writer Laurence Meynell penned well over one hundred children’s books and novels under various pseudonyms. As Meynell, he is perhaps best known for his crime fiction. His PI, Hooky Hefferman first appeared in 1959 and continued in numerous novels in the series, all very different. Six of his works were made into films over a period of thirty years.
  1. James Atlee Phillips (aka Philip Atlee) wrote spy fiction, thrillers, and two screenplays, such as the 1958 film Thunder Road starring Robert Mitchum. His work often utilized his world travels, such as The Fer-De-Lance Contract (1970) which takes place in the Caribbean and features counter-intelligence agent, Joe Gall. The White Wolverine Contract was nominated for an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1972 for Best Paperback Original.
  1. It seems fitting to end this with William Anthony Parker White, known as Anthony Boucher wrote both science fiction and mystery. The first of his crime fiction novels was published in 1937, The Case of the Seven of Calvary. In the 1940s he reviewed mystery fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle. A prolific short story writer, his works appear in numerous anthologies. Perhaps his greatest contribution to crime writing was his participation in helping found Mystery Writers of America, Inc in 1945 for “the purpose of promoting and protecting the interest and welfare of mystery writers and to increase the esteem and literary recognition given to the genre” [https://mysterywriters.org/about-mwa/mwa-history/]. In 1970 the world’s largest mystery conference, the Bouchercon, was held, and continues on a yearly basis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *