When I started to get seriously interested in mysteries, I wanted to read everything. I knew that wasn't possible, of course, but I made a run at it. I'd already read Poe and Doyle, so I started in on Queen and Christie and Carr. I read one Nero Wolfe novel after another. I searched out obscure hardboiled writers. I read paperback originals by the dozens. At the same time, I tried not to neglect the up-and-coming writers. In those days that meant people like Westlake and Block and Ross Thomas. John D. MacDonald was getting the Travis McGee series started.

I get the impression now that a lot of mystery readers don't care about anything that wasn't written within the last five years or so. If it's older than that, they just don't have the time for it. I can see why. There are a lot of new writers, and it seems as if there are ten or fifteen new books coming a long every week. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by it all.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe people just getting interested in the field still go back and read a lot of the good old stuff. Or maybe I'm right and they just don't care about all that.

What do you think?

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I think any serious crime fiction lover reads the "good" old stuff. What they probably don't make time for is the in-between stuff. Books that were good but never became classics. A whole host of writers I read in the seventies and eighties are never mentioned today. For intance, Patrica Moyes comes to mind. Younger readers probably read more widely in the newer books because it's harder to judge their worth at the time of publication.
Also, of course, we had fewer distractions. Like this!
I read Patricia Moyes, Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers. I suspect Tey is remembered for at least one book, and Sayers for more.
Read all of them. Remember Ngaio Marsh, Nicholas Blake, John Dickson Carr, Rex Burns, Edmund Crispin, Michael Gilbert, Cyril Hare( was he Nicholas Blake?), Philip MacDonald. I guess most of these people will not be read. Too bad.
Of couse, many literary novelists share the same fate. I can list
even more of them that nobody reads anymore.
Since Dashiell Hammett's novels have never gone out of print, and his impressive canon of short stories has recently had two additions of mostly long-out-of-print stuff (NIGHTMARE TOWN and LOST STORIES), I'd say that it's possible that you'll always have a core of readers who want to know what came before, Bill. After all, look at how collections like Ross MacDonald's work keep coming out (thank you, Black Lizard!)

Just last weekend I was with a friend in the famous City Lights book store in San Francisco. She's a terrific writer, does her series in first person, and I was surprised to hear that she had never read any of Chandler's stuff, so I grabbed a copy of THE LONG GOODBYE and took it to the register to get it for her.

The clerk (turned out to be their night manager) looked at me and said, "Ah, the greatest American writer of the 20th century. You can't beat his books for narrative, description, and characterization."

(I didn't have the heart to tell him that Chandler was actually English)

Now, that surprised me, because this was the bookstore where they sell T-shirts with references to Ginsburg's HOWL and Kerouac stuff all over the walls. So I've been thinking about it, and I think it comes down to this.

The guy mentioned "narrative, description, and characterization." When you add in the plot, which is usually a given, particularly in a mystery (after all, as Christie once said, everything takes a back seat to plot), you've got a formidable bit of what used to be called "literature" on your hands.

I don't know about many other mystery readers, but I'm usually willing to give a book two chapters worth of my time. If it hasn't hooked me by then, I set it aside, because there's plenty out there in my own Mt. TBR that's waiting around for me to get started with it. I think you're far more likely to find good examples of a satisfying combination of plot, narrative, description and characterization in something that's stayed in print for decades than you are in the latest pot-boiler written by someone you may have never heard of before.

I'm not saying there aren't many terrific books coming out now, merely trying to account for the fact that so many great authors have stayed in print for so long. Just some random thoughts.
Ellery Queen, on the other hand, is probably out of print in this country. I wonder about Carr. But the hardboiled guys roll on.
I can't help but wonder how the renewed interest in hard-boiled/noir and its so-called "renaissance" with new names writing about neo-noir heroes plays into that equation, Bill. And a noir renaissance hasn't helped Carroll John Daly see the light of day again, has it?

As for others you don't see much of anymore, what about Leslie Charteris? And isn't it amazing that Rex Stout's stuff hasn't gone out of print (a fact for which I am eternally grateful). Is Philip MacDonald really out of print? THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER and WARRANT FOR X are classics!

And then there are the classic thrillers. I'm finding Eric Ambler back in print. Recently read A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS. Can't believe I hadn't gotten to it earlier.
I love the new stuff and discovering new authors but I also love some of the old stuff too. Raymond Chandler, James M Cain, Jim Thompson, Woolrich, Leslie Charteris. I like the Femmes Fatales series and picked up Vera Caspary's BEDELIA and Dorothy Hughes' IN A LONELY PLACE (the film of which I love). I am trying to find more Richard S Prather books and if I see any of the old Gold Medal books I have started picking up a few of those - some of them just for their covers or titles (how could I resist a book called SWAMP BRAT?)

And a bit more up to date I love Ed McBain, George V Higgins, Colin Watson, William McIlvanney... So I try to intersperse new with old.
SWAMP BRAT's actually pretty good, the book itself, that is, not just the cover.
My tastes are probably biased towards new books or books that have newly been translated into English. I do still like to read some of the more classica US noir writers - Ross Thomas, John D McDonald, Robert Parker. And at the start of my reading career, I read a lot of UK golden age writers - Christie, Allingham, Josephine Tey, DLS, Ngaio Marsh (well NZ). I've also touched upon Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler over the years. And today I borrowed "The Crust on its uppers" by Derek Raymond.

Brian - I've just stolen a copy of Coffin for Demetrios from my mum, it's on my TBR pile.
Hi Laura-

I have to say that for me, A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS really lived up to the hype (which is rare for me to say). Speaking of Ambler, I've got JOURNEY INTO FEAR in my TBR pile, and would LOVE to see the Welles/Joseph Cotten movie of the same name once I've read it.

So you think of Parker as "classic noir," eh? Interesting. I don't see him that way. Then again, I think he hit his high point with A CATSKILL EAGLE, and he's just pretty much been enjoying himself since then (and really, who can blame him?).

As for Hammett and Chandler, I love them (Hammett's short stories more than Chandler's, and Chandler's novels as a rule more than Hammett's). Have you ever read anything by Ross MacDonald? Wheeeeee!
Yes, read the Drowning Pool, Black Money and erm, erm dammit I've forgotten the third one! So you see Parker as non-noir PI then :)
My mystery progression was Christie --> Stout --> Chandler, and on from there. In the past couple of years I've gotten interested in the paperback originals from the 50s and 60s, guys like Donald Hamilton and Charles Williams.

I think there will always be revivals of the good old stuff. I just saw yesterday that there's a new edition of SOLOMON'S VINEYARD by Jonathon Latimer out.


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