I recently found this paperback published in 2002, but still available (I got mine online), edited by Jim Huang. It is filled with reviews of little known, forgotten or under appreciated mysteries contributed by various booksellers, readers and reviewers. Far as I can tell, I've never heard of most of these titles or authors, although there are a few whose names I did recognize and another few whom I've read and enjoyed.
Still, it's interesting to look through THEY DIED IN VAIN and see what lost gems might be found among its pages, see if there's something I might have overlooked. (As if I didn't have enough to read just keeping current.) I mean, I'm sure there are plenty of good books I've overlooked over the years, but they have not always been brought to my attention as succinctly as in this informative and well-designed little book.
Included are 103 personal essays (organized alphabetically), which span the history of the genre. The books cover a full spectrum from cozies to thrillers, suspense, whodunits and police procedurals. I went through the book with my red pen and circled many titles for future investigation.
The back cover of THEY DIED IN VAIN asks the question: If characters die in a mystery novel, and no one reads their story, have they died in vain? This is like one of those tree in the forest things for which there is no answer, but it's something to think about. If you're into that sort of thing.
Here are some of the titles listed by the book's contributors:
DEATH FROM THE WOODS by Brigitte Aubert (2000)
(In which the heroine is a blind and mute quadriplegic.)
LAURA by Vera Caspary (1943)
(All I know about Laura is the terrific movie with Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb and Dana Andrews. But I understand that the book is considered more devious and disturbing than the film.)
SHADOW OF A BROKEN MAN by George Chesbro (1977)
(The protagonist, Dr. Robert "Mongo" Fredrickson has a private eye license, a karate black belt, a genius IQ and a Ph.D. That alone makes me want to read the book. But there's more, Mongo is a dwarf and one of the favorite protagonists of editor Jim Huang.)
THE ZERO TRAP by Paula Gosling (1979)
(A U.S. Army plane is hijacked over the Middle East. The plane is later found but the passengers are missing. They have been whisked off to the Arctic Circle, where they are imprisoned by the sub-zero weather in a fully functioning house which includes a sauna. Who are these people and what is going on?)
SLEEP LONG, MY LOVE by Hillary Waugh (1959)
(A police procedural set in a fictitious Connecticut town where a dismembered and disemboweled body in a car trunk is not an everyday occurence.)
THE MAN IN LOWER TEN by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1909)
(The only M.R.R. book I've ever read is THE BAT and I enjoyed that very much. Why I never read any other Rineharts, I don't know. Possibly because they're hard to find. This one sounds like something I'd really like .A staid, set-in-his-ways lawyer goes on a train trip and finds a dead body. Dead body in a train - say no more, I'm hooked.)
THE PALADIN by Brian Garfield (1979)
(The unlikely protagonist is a 15 year old boy who unexpectedly becomes a spy during WW!!.)
MURDERS IN VOLUME 2 By Elizabeth Daly (1941)
(The fact that Daly was Agatha Christie's favorite writer of detective stories makes me eager to read her books. And the fact that the protagonist is a bibliophile detective just adds to my eagerness.)
Well, obviously I can't include all 103 recommendations (well, I guess I could, but I'm not going to), you'll have to check out the book for those - all I've done is list a few I'm interested in pursuing. Though there are more in the book I'd like to read as well.
In the meantime, here's a personal short list of books I've read and think got short-shrift and forgotten too quickly:
LOOT by Aaron Elkins (1999)
A stand-alone novel from the creator of the wonderful Gideon Oliver 'Skeleton Doctor' series.
LOOT tells the story of ex-art curator Ben Revere who discovers a lost Velazquez painting in a seedy pawnshop - a painting which appears to have been among the artistic loot plundered by the Nazis during WWII. In Revere's effort to solve a murder and authenticate the painting he is plunged head long into adventure and daring do. (I thought it was 'derring-do' but what do I know?) It is Elkins wry sense of humor and sly observation that shines in this novel and the villains are so nasty that you almost find yourself hissing as you read. I love this book and have reread it several times and never tire of doing so. I had hoped there's be some sort of second in a series, Ben Revere is such a like-able hero, but so far, it is not to be.
THE NINTH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX by Liz Jensen (2004)
An unusual and in some ways horrifying mystery, mostly of the heart, told partially from the point of view of a bed-ridden, comatose patient who happens to be a 9 year old boy. I found it fascinating from the openinig sentence:"I'm not most kids. I'm Louis Drax. Stuff happens to me that shouldn't happen, like going on a picnic where you drown."
The police procedural mysteries (begun in 1968) by Jonathan Ross featuring British Detective Superintendent George Rogers and his merry men (and women). I've NEVER met anyone else who's read these books. Among them: MURDER! MURDER! BURNING BRIGHT, DAPHNE DEAD AND DONE FOR, THE BURNING OF BILLY TOOBER, DARK BLUE and DANGEROUS, THE BODY OF A WOMAN and many, many more. I was impressed by this series when I first began reading the few books I could find and they remain fondly in my memory. They are tightly woven, well told police whodunits with very engaging characters. If you like procedurals, these are among the best and well worth looking for.
REED'S PROMISE by John Clarkson (2001)
My favorite thriller of all yet very few people have ever heard of it. You're plunged from the very beginning into the world of ex-FBI agent, Bill Reed by experiencing, as he does, a terrible motorcycle crash in which he loses a leg. Afterwards, as Reed recuperates and battles depression, he tries to honor a request for help from his cousin John, a Downs Syndrome patient at the sinister Ullman Institute. Clarkson creates an atmosphere of such menace in this book that when I read it, I had to take suspense breaks. The menace was that overwhelming. Don't miss it.