Most underrated mystery novel

Many of you have asked for posts on the most underrated books.  Today will start a short flirtation with this topic ("underrated week," which of course starts on Friday) and we’ll break books down by category.

For mystery, I’ll nominate the works of Henning Mankel, although arguably he is not underrated any more by critics.  Verissimo’s Borges and the Eternal Orangutans is my other pick.  Or how about Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx?

Readers, comments are open…


Encyclopedia Brown.

I enjoyed the Verissimo, but it wasn't good enough to be underrated. One of the better things about it was its length.

I ploughed all the way through the Quincunx to be disappointed by the limp ending.

Is 'Friends of Eddie Coyle' by George v. Higgins underrated? I don't know, but it has to be in the top 100 mystery novels of all time.

Joe Gores has been pretty much forgotten. So has Ross Thomas (Briarpatch).

Charles McCarry ('Tears of Autumn') is probably the best spy novelist.

Erp. I meant the chestnut about the "least interesting number."

I agree on Quincunx, but I can't comment on the ending. The copy I borrowed from the library had the last 50 pages missing! I read the whole thing without knowing that. Still haven't finished it.


George V. Higgins early novels were classics. And Robert Mitchum did a great job in the (OK) movie.

Akashic Books has done a great job in bringing out 'Havana Noir'

I believe I am correct that the 2 Swedish authors you are mentioning were Marxists?

Their books have to be seen through that framework. Not that they aren't good, but there is a degree of didacticism in their analysis of Swedish society, whereas traditionally detective thrillers focus on the character of the detective and his interactions with others. As I say, this isn't to say they are not excellent novels.

In some ways, it is as a freeze frame of a society at a particular moment in time that makes good mystery fiction so special. I haven't found that in other literature as much.

Dorothy Sayers caught that, and the fantastic British tv series about Lord Peter Wimsey (with Ian Carmichael) as a 'freeze frame' of 1920s British society.

I don't know if you ever saw the 'Van der Valk' TV series, but that had a bit of that, too.

The recently departed Michael Dibdin managed that with his Aurelio Zen novels about modern Italy.

Cutter & Bone probably shouldn't be forgotten amongst forgotten greats-- Newton Thornburger. That and his other one, which got remade into the fantastic film 'The Limey' by Steven Soderbergh of Oceans 11 fame.

Cutter & Bone - Newton Thornburg

Also 'To die in California' (which was quasi-remade as 'The Limey'

when are you all going to start rss'ing to twitter? such would be amazing!

Lucas is right on the mark about Verissimo. In Brazil he's known primarily as a writer of funny short stories, but also as the son of one of the countrie's major writers (Erico). He's also a syndicated columnist whose endless outpouring of leftist nonsense is widely admired. As a whole, he is vastly overrated in Brazil. "Borges and the Eternal Orangutans", one of his only three novels and his only mystery, is quite good, though.

Single book -- Levin's "A Kiss Before Dying" (Do not see the movie before reading the book)

Body of Work -- Lawrence Block (No writer has ever been more screwed by Hollywood)

And yes, Marsh and Sayers deserve more recognition. Both are better than Christie, Stout or Queen.

I have read all of the Sjowall/Wahloo books and used to think they were the best. Re-read a couple recently and they have faded, not helped by their ridiculous leftist didacticism. That said, "The Laughing Policeman" is still a great thriller.

And Dorothy Sayers isn't overlooked and is overrated if anything. And no way, no how is she better than a very witty author like Rex Stout.

Given the season, I should tell you that the Travis McGee novels by John D.MacDonald may be the finest beach reading ever written.

I nominate The Mystery of the Yellow Room, by Gaston Leroux (of Phantom of the Opera fame), which is an almost entirely foggotten classic from 1908 or 1910. It is a novel boasting of three successive "impossible crimes" (the first one of the orthodox locked room kind), each one given at the end a different and utterly logical explanation. One of the very few mysteries in which by the end one sees that, as in mathematics, the solution was rigorously the only possible one for the problem that had been set (instead of one that the author decided arbitrarily).

I agree about Chesterton too, but is he really that underrated? I think the Father Brown stories are still quite read, which is more than what almost any other of his contemporaries (Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie excepted) can say.

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