Crime novels come and go, and some of them go too fast. Sometimes an excellent novel – either through bad timing or fate – never quite finds its audience, or gradually fades from memory (and out of print) as the years pass. Here are five overlooked crime novels worth seeking out.
KISS TOMORROW GOOD-BYE by Horace McCoy (1948): McCoy’s best-known for his 1935 novel THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?, but this is his noir masterpiece. The rise and fall of sociopathic gangster Ralph Cotter, told in first person, beginning with his violent escape from a chain gang. James Cagney played Cotter in the equally overlooked 1950 film version.
VIOLENT SATURDAY by W.L. Heath (1955): Three strangers arrive in a small Alabama town to rob the local Savings and Loan, and precipitate the titular event, tipping the entire town into chaos. Filmed in 1955, with Victor Mature, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine. I’ve written about the novel at length.
JACK’S RETURN HOME by Ted Lewis (1970). Lewis’ novel is mostly remembered as the source material for the great British gangster film GET CARTER, starring Michael Caine as Jack Carter, a London thug who heads north to investigate the death of his brother, even though he never really liked him that much. A hard-boiled gem, and, like KISS TOMORROW GOOD-BYE, another great sociopath novel told in first-person. Lewis wrote about Carter twice more, in the prequels JACK CARTER’S LAW and JACK CARTER AND THE MAFIA PIGEON.
ANY COLD JORDAN by David Bottoms (1987): Georgia native Bottoms was primarily known as a poet when he published this, the first of two beautifully written crime novels set in the American South (1990’s EASTER WEEKEND was the second). Billy Parker, a barroom guitar player whose personal life is unraveling, teams up with an ex-Special Forces Vietnam vet to rip off a local biker gang. It doesn’t end well. With the swamps and rivers of North Florida as its backdrop, ANY COLD JORDAN sometimes feels like a lost James Lee Burke novel. It’s that good. Bottoms is now Georgia’s current poet laureate and teaches at Georgia State University.
MARTIN QUINN by Anthony Lee (2003): A streetwise Irish kid grows up in a Russian mob family in this terrific debut novel, set in Brighton Beach, N.Y. Martin Quinn’s loyalties are tested when he’s caught between Russian and Italian gangsters, and his own former partners in the heroin business. Lee’s new novel, THERE IN THE DARKNESS, will be released later this year.