The best books of neglected mysteries

Who am I?

From Poe to Conan Doyle and Christie to the hard-boiled school of Hammett and Chandler and modern practitioners such as Louise Penny and Walter Mosely, I can gobble up mysteries like candy. Their appeal lies not only in compelling storylines but in their promise to restore order to our chaotic world, assure us that justice will triumph and evil geniuses will lose to intrepid paladins. As with wines, art, and sex, tastes vary. While reading various lists of great mysteries to jog my memory to make this list, I realized that few of my favorites were even listed, much less among the top ranks. Like a good detective, I’m determined that justice prevails.

I wrote...

To Live and Die in the Floating World

By Stephen Holgate,

Book cover of To Live and Die in the Floating World

What is my book about?

This one harkens back to my days as crew member on a small tourist barge on the canals of Burgundy and a story told to me by a fellow crew member.

Kip Weston, young scion of a wealthy American family, has fled the United States one step ahead of the law. Broke and desperate, he flees his seedy quarter of Paris for the countryside, where he falls into a job on the tourist boat, Celeste. But Kip quickly finds that in running from one peril he has landed in far greater danger from another, where the pull of romance may lead to quick death. A tale of mounting suspense, it ends in a spasm of violence that resolves everything and nothing.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Underground Man

Stephen Holgate Why did I love this book?

To my mind, Macdonald is the greatest of American mystery writers, yet he appears to be all but forgotten. Writing in the tradition of Chandler and Hammett—and sharing their California setting—he surpasses them both as a writer and a student of human nature. I find his detective, Lew Archer, a believable and appealing character. A decent and compassionate man, he’s as tough as needs be, but no tougher. The Underground Man is Macdonald’s best, a complex and haunting story in which a routine search for a missing person leads Archer into a twisted family heritage of death and betrayal that has festered, hidden, for decades, and has now burst forth in deadly fashion. 

By Ross Macdonald,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Underground Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As a mysterious fire rages through the hills above a privileged town in Southern California, Archer tracks a missing child who may be the pawn in a marital struggle or the victim of a bizarre kidnapping.  What he uncovers amid the ashes is murder—and a trail of motives as combustible as gasoline.  The Underground Man is a detective novel of merciless suspense and tragic depth, with an unfaltering insight into the moral ambiguities at the heart of California's version of the American dream.

If any writer can be said to have inherited the mantle of Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler,…

Book cover of The Daughter of Time

Stephen Holgate Why did I love this book?

Cozies generally don’t appeal to me. I prefer the approach of Dashiell Hammett, who said, “I took murder out of the vicarage and put it back in the alley, where it belongs.” This one, though, I like very much, maybe because it’s so unorthodox. Its hero, police detective Alan Grant, recuperating from a broken leg,never even leaves his bed. While looking over a copy of a centuries-old portrait of a sensitive and careworn man, Grant is shocked to discover that it is of evil King Richard III, crookback tyrant, and murderer of child princes. The revelation leads him on a search for the truth behind the curtain of accepted history, and a surprising conclusion. It’s a great read as both a tantalizing mystery and an unorthodox historical novel.

By Josephine Tey,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Daughter of Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Josephine Tey's classic novel about Richard III, the hunchback king whose skeleton was famously discovered in a council car park, investigates his role in the death of his nephews, the princes in the Tower, and his own death at the Battle of Bosworth.

Richard III reigned for only two years, and for centuries he was villified as the hunch-backed wicked uncle, murderer of the princes in the Tower. Josephine Tey's novel The Daughter of Time is an investigation into the real facts behind the last Plantagenet king's reign, and an attempt to right what many believe to be the…

Book cover of Maigret and the Bum

Stephen Holgate Why did I love this book?

Like so many, I’m addicted to this series. Often imitated, never surpassed, Simenon is perhaps the only mystery writer to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and was considered by some contemporaries to be the greatest French novelist of his time. Don’t let that put you off. These are great mysteries with an indelible sense of time and place. If the Sherlock Holmes stories can transport me to Victorian London, I can as easily take an absorbing mid-20th century trip to the underside of Paris with Inspector Jules Maigret.

These police procedurals offer unforgettable characters and deep psychological insight. Maigret and the Bum is perhaps my favorite. The bum of the title is a vagrant who has been beaten nearly to death on the banks of the Seine. As Maigret investigates the crime, he finds that the victim was once a highly respected doctor, dedicated to helping the poor and impoverished, but has somehow ended up living under a bridge in Paris. Yet, as Maigret needs his help to solve the crime, the victim is curiously uncooperative. This title shows Simenon’s great touch for writing unorthodox mysteries with complex and fascinating characters.

By Georges Simenon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Maigret and the Bum as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by Simenon, Georges

Book cover of In Cold Blood

Stephen Holgate Why did I love this book?

Has there ever been a better—or better-written—true crime story? I ate this up with a spoon, and it was a sensational best seller in its day, but seems nearly unknown now. In this harrowing masterpiece, Capote, annoying little dweeb that he was, shows why he was a great writer. The killing of the Clutter family in their home in 1959 may seem small stuff when we’ve become almost numb to mass shootings, but Capote weaves, with maximum skill and suspense, a beautifully-structured tale of murder, misfits, and the lost innocence of small-town America. You might want to sleep with the lights on for a couple of nights after this one.

By Truman Capote,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked In Cold Blood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The chilling true crime 'non-fiction novel' that made Truman Capote's name, In Cold Blood is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative published in Penguin Modern Classics.

Controversial and compelling, In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and both their children. Truman Capote's comprehensive study of the killings and subsequent investigation explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime and the effect it had on those involved. At the centre of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, who, vividly…

Book cover of My Dark Places: An L.A. Crime Memoir

Stephen Holgate Why did I love this book?

Memoirs don’t often feature mysteries, but Elroy, known for tough, cynical crime novels such as L.A. Confidential, centers his around his obsession with the unsolved murder of his mother in 1958 when Elroy was ten. With allusions to the famous Blue Dahlia case, Elroy writes with brutal frankness about his own pathologies and his weirdly loving relationship with his neglectful, alcoholic father. If nothing else, this absorbing book—hard to read and equally hard to put down—solves the mystery of why Elroy and his novels come off as so creepy.

By James Ellroy,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked My Dark Places as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On 22 June 1958, Geneva "Jean" Hilliker Ellroy was found strangled. Her murderer was never found, but her death had a lasting effect on her ten-year-old son who wasted his early adulthood as a wino, petty burglar and derelict. In this book he tells of his determination to solve his mother's murder.

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Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

By Bruce Tate,

Book cover of Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

Bruce Tate

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The plan was insane. The trap seemed to snap shut on Bruce and Maggie Tate, an isolation forced on them by the pandemic and America's growing political factionalism. Something had to change.

Maggie's surprising answer: buy a boat, learn to pilot it, and embark on the Great Loop. With no experience, and knowing little about seafaring, diesel motors, or navigation, Maggie, Bruce, and the family dog decided to take on the six-thousand-mile journey down inland rivers, around the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and across the Great Lakes. They would have to navigate canals, rivers, seas, and locks. But along the way, they made new lifelong friends and were forever changed.

For nine months, Bruce and Maggie navigated shallow rivers, bottomless lakes, joy, and loss. Against all odds, they conquered the Great Loop, and along the way, found common cause across political divides with new friends while blowing the walls off their world.

Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

By Bruce Tate,

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