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CharlesArdai
Posts: 264
Registered: ‎09-05-2007
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MARCH: First novels

Sorry to get a late start this month -- we're already two days into March as I write this -- especially when the topic I thought it would be fun to talk about this month is getting an early start.

 

Specifically, what writers who later became greats wrote first novels that already showed how great they'd be?  (And conversely, which ones didn't?)

 

This topic came to mind because this month Hard Case Crime is publishing THE CUTIE by Donald E. Westlake, which is the first novel the late MWA Grand Master ever published under his own name.  (He'd done some pseudonymous softcore sex novels before that, but nothing serious, and nothing under his real name.)  THE CUTIE first appeared under the title THE MERCENARIES (though Don wrote it as THE CUTIE and was excited to see us bringing it out under the title he originally meant for the book to have), and in my opinion THE CUTIE is one of the best books he ever wrote.  You can certainly see how amazing a writer he'd become in this first novel -- and clearly the judges for the Edgar Award agreed back in 1961, since they nominated it for Best First Novel.  (Though another book won.  Boo! Hiss!)

 

I feel similarly about GRIFTER'S GAME by Lawrence Block, which was the first book *that* Grand Master published under his own name.  And of course THE BIG SLEEP was Chandler's debut. 

 

On the other hand, I don't know that anyone would say that any of Ross Macdonald's pre-Lew Archer books showed the enormous power his writing would later have, or even that the first of the Archer books did.  It took several for him to hit his stride.  Similarly, a Rex Stout-loving friend of mine recently asserted over lunch that he doesn't love the Nero Wolfe books until around book 6 or 7, when he feels Stout "found his voice."

 

So...topic for discussion: Which first novels by crime writers were staggering debuts that heralded the arrival of a major new figure in the genre?  And from which ones would you never have guessed just how good the author would later become?

 

--Charles


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Paul_Hochman
Posts: 2,801
Registered: ‎03-23-2007
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Re: MARCH: First novels

Dead I Well May Be  

McKinty's debut was nothing short of stunning and like a lot of great books, it was widely ignored. Even more appalling is the fact that book is now out of stock indefinitely. One you might want to one day reprint, Charles?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caught Stealing 

Another incredible debut, and Huston didn't disappoint with the other two books in the Hank Thompson Series. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Huston's latest crime efforts have fell short of his earlier work.

Author
CharlesArdai
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Re: MARCH: First novels

Reprinting the McKinty is an interesting idea.  We normally look for older books when choosing reprints (generally ones from the 1940s or 50s), but you never know...

 

Meanwhile, I hunted down a list of all the winners of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, and it's interesting to see both how many names there are on the list of people who may have written excellent first novels but never made enough of an impact after that to be remembered and how many lasting talents were recognized even at that early stage of their career.  In the latter category you've  got people like Robert L. Fish, Harry Kemelman, Gregory Mcdonald, James Patterson, Richard North Patterson, Michael Connelly, Patricia Cornwell, Jonathan Kellerman, Ross Thomas, and Ira Levin.  On the other hand, how many people these days read Cornelius Hirshberg?  Not that they shouldn't; his Edgar winner from 1964, FLORENTINE FINISH, was in print as recently as 1989.  But how many do...?

 

--Charles


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Paul_Hochman
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Re: MARCH: First novels

While never published in the U.S. your upcoming release of Jason Starr's Fake I.D. is kinda of a new reprint, no? I'm stretching I know...

 

Cornelius Hirshwho?

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DanaKing
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Registered: ‎10-05-2007
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Re: MARCH: First novels

Wasn't RED HARVEST Hammett's first novel? If so, he hit the ground running.

 

Of newer writers I think Dennis Lehane showed great promise with A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR. The one that hit me hardest was Declan Hughes's premiere, THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD. I knew he'd become prominent before I was halfway through it.

 

Robert B. Parker's THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT showed what a talent he was, but he seems to have taken less interest in writing at that level as time has gone on.

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Paul_Hochman
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Re: MARCH: First novels

I completely agree about A Drink Before the War, Dana. A terrific start to Lehane's storied career.

 

Another sharp start was James Crumley's The Wrong Case, which paved the way to The Last Good Kiss.

 

 

 


DanaKing wrote:

Wasn't RED HARVEST Hammett's first novel? If so, he hit the ground running.

 

Of newer writers I think Dennis Lehane showed great promise with A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR. The one that hit me hardest was Declan Hughes's premiere, THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD. I knew he'd become prominent before I was halfway through it.

 

Robert B. Parker's THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT showed what a talent he was, but he seems to have taken less interest in writing at that level as time has gone on.


 

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Keller
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Registered: ‎03-05-2009
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Re: MARCH: First novels

Connelly's The Black Echo and T. Jefferson Parker's Laguna Heat both come to mind.
Author
dave-zeltserman
Posts: 49
Registered: ‎09-03-2008
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Re: MARCH: First novels

[ Edited ]

Charles, Rex Stout's first novel, How Like a God, is brilliant, one of the best noir books written. I'm a big Nero Wolfe fan, and his book Fer-Der-Lance felt stiff to me, but after that I think his next 7 or so books are the best in the series.

 

Paul, I agree completely about Caught Stealing. I still need to read Adrian McKinty, but have heard nothing but good stuff about his books.

 

I just read a first novel, Mixed Blood by Roger Smith, and it is excellent.  Picture Richard Stark's Parker as a family man having to flee to Capretown, South Africa, and you get some idea. Very very violent, very dark, not one word of slack throughout the whole book, and played straight up and not for laughs. This is about as good a first crime novel as I've read. 

 

--Dave

 

Message Edited by dave-zeltserman on 03-10-2009 11:26 AM


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Paul_Hochman
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Re: MARCH: First novels

Hi Dave,

 

I loved Mixed Blood too. The ending, which came completely out of left field, just dropped my jaw. Smith is the real deal.

 

Also, coming in September is Stephen Schwartz's debut novel Boulevard which follows a sex-addicted LAPD detective. This one's a doozy. Keep your eyes open for it.

 

P.

Contributor
Keller
Posts: 18
Registered: ‎03-05-2009
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Re: MARCH: First novels

Boulevard sounds like a winner -- will keep an eye out for it! :smileyhappy:
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STOLTMAN
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Registered: ‎08-10-2008
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Re: MARCH: First novels

I think Lee Child's first novel KILLING FLOOR is incredible.  Jack Reacher is such a cool character.  Before I was even done with this book I went out and bought the next few in the series.  I knew I'd be reading them all. 
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-Ray
Posts: 9
Registered: ‎10-08-2008
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Re: MARCH: First novels

First off, Did not Chandler (my favorite) build The Big Sleep from two of his short stories for Black Mask magazine?

 

I am glad to hear that Rex Stout gets better. I read Fer-de-Lance and though it was a bit on the boring side. I will have to read the next few and see how they go.

 

And I agree Red Harvest was a great book, and my favorite Hammett.

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STOLTMAN
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Re: MARCH: First novels

I, The Jury is Mickey Spillane's first novel.  I would say that was a pretty impressive debut.

 

--Jeff

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