Another time, we went through an extreme form of self-torture reading D.H. Lawrence’s notorious “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, in which Lady Constance's affair with a – shock – lowly gamekeeper was described in such irritatingly purple prose that we continually had to resist the temptation to hurl the book against the nearest wall. Finally, “The End” appeared and we knew it was a task well done, though at cost to mental wellbeing.

The point is, here we have, one, a Great American Novel, and, two, one of the most notorious books ever written, both considered “classics” of literature in their way, and yet both, to us, so intensely, so infuriatingly, well … boring. Why, too, couldn’t we really enjoy “Alice in Wonderland”, “Robinson Crusoe”, “The Red and the Black” and other generally “important books” that, when tackled as a sort of duty to be “well-read”, once completed tend to pose the questions, “is that it? Is that the best we can do in hundreds of years of literature? That was a ‘classic’?”

Pass that James Bond book, please.

So: we have subjectivity, we have the court of public opinion and now we have Christopher Fowler, who must have read more than we could ever dream of reading to unearth 99 authors, once popular, apparently, but now mostly condemned to musty second-hand shops. As Fowler demonstrates, this doesn’t necessarily mean that theirs is a deserved fate . . .

One author who should have rung a bell with us but didn’t is Charles Hamilton, described by Fowler as one of the most prolific authors in history but hardly any of whose books can now be found. Hamilton churned out several thousand adventures about cowboys, firemen, coppers and crooks, penning an estimated 100 million words, the equivalent of 1200 average-length novels. He used a great many pen-names, and this is where we tripped up – his “Frank Richards” is the name we recognise, as author of the Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School books, once a household name back in our childhood days but now basically vanished. (“Yarooh!”)

Then there is Gladys Mitchell, described by Fowler as a sort of mad combination of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, whose mystery novels feature an acerbic old lady detective involved in incredible plots and who considered that murder could be justified in the right circumstances. Mitchell, a schoolteacher, pushed the murder genre to breaking point, and by surprising too much, she sometimes disappointed, opines Fowler. But a flawed gem can still sparkle brightly; better an alluring failure than an under-achieveing success, he concludes.

Bill Naughton is mentioned by Fowler alongside Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Alan Sillitoe, Joe Orton and John Osborne as one of the key British literary figures of the post-Second World War years. Naughton’s radio play June Evening” was adapted and televised in 1960, causing a sensation as an early kitchen sink” TV play, nine months before Coronation Street” began, the latter also starting off with neo-realist roots. Was Naughton’s idea of setting a story around a single street appropriated by the TV broadcaster, ponders Fowler? Naughton produced novels, short stories and plays, the latter including All in Good Time”, later filmed as the popular The Family Way” in 1966. It’s surprising how little of his work remains in print, says Fowler.

An intriguing revelation concerns author Frank Baker who wrote The Birds”, in which Londoners are mysteriously attacked from above, 30 years before Daphne du Maurier’s short story of the same name, and yet it is her work that is considered the source of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror film. Fowler appreciates that the two stories were markedly different in ways, yet, for him, Baker’s version feels closer to Hitchcock’s style.

Then there is Alexander Baron, described as one of the most consistently under-rated British novelists of the Second World War. Fowler particularly likes his acclaimed war trilogy, containing fictions of soldiers born from Baker’s own fighting experiences. Baker’s elegant style and warm sense of humanity secured a reputation that’s now starting to enjoy a revival, judges Fowler. Happily, a few of his books are once more available after years in the wilderness.

These are just a random selection of the 99 selected by Fowler, who assures us that he himself is still alive and one day plans to realise his ambition to become a Forgotten Author himself. Until then, he has written over 40 novels and short story collections so far, including Bryant & May” mystery novels. In 2015 he won the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger in the Library award for his detective series, once described by his former publisher as unsaleable”.

“The Book of Forgotten Authors” is light-hearted and amusing at the same time that it is revealing. The 99 essays generally take about three pages each and there are also a dozen longer chapters on subjects such as the vanished novels that were filmed by Walt Disney, on the contemporary rivals of Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Agatha Christie who were unable to achieve such longevity, on rediscovered authors and on forgotten pulp fiction, some Charles Dickens works and queens of suspense.

Not every author can stay in print all the time. Publishers and the public can be fickle. Fowler will surely send us to the internet in search of some of his recommendations – Project Gutenberg? But remember one thing – good art will usually out in the long run. If you or the world in general miss a fine book, song or film when it first appears, it may take a couple of decades but if it really is any good we will probably catch up with it one day. Of course, the creator may be dead by then and posthumous recognition isn’t worth so much, but that’s the way it goes.

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