Deeper into the shadows with crooks and spooks

Fans of the murky worlds that emerged in the 20 Crime and Espionage back-catalogue novels from Penguin Randon House last year will welcome the batch of a further 10 to be issued in June, an opportunity to revisit some known authors or discover some forgotten or semi-forgotten ones, all decorated anew but in the familiar mostly green-and-black livery that looks nice on the bookshelves.
10. March 2024 5:17

These will be the next 10 for resurrection, originally published from 1930-1993

“The Chinese Gold Murders” by Robert Van Gulik (1959)

The author (1910-1967) was a Dutch writer, linguist, diplomat, calligrapher and player of the ancient stringed instrument the gujin. His father was a medical officer and travelled in the Dutch colonies (Indonesia), which allowed Robert to study Chinese and other languages. The son received his PhD in Chinese studies from Utrecht university and joined the Dutch foreign service, serving principally in Japan and China. While in Tokyo in a secondhand bookstore he came across a copy of the “Dee Goong An” (English title: “Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee”) by an anonymous 18th-century Chinese author. “Goong an” or “gong an” refers to “magistrate cases”, crime fiction where the detective is a magistrate/judge. The Judge Dee in question is Di Renjie (630-700 AD), a celebrated official of the later Tang era and chancellor to Wu Zetian, a rare female ruler of China. Van Gulik translated the book into English and published it in 1949. The character, culture and genre inspired him to continue Judge Dee’s adventures, eventually writing nearly 20 books, of which this is one.

“The Deadly Percheron” by John Franklin Bardin (1946)

Expect what has been described as a bold and unconventional crime thriller from the American author (1916-1981) that is at once a murder mystery, poignant love story and, most importantly, an “unsettling and hallucinatory dark voyage into memory, madness, torture and despair”. Goodness gracious!

“The Gold Mask” by Edogawa Rampo (1930)

Japanese writer and critic Tarō Hirai (1894-1965), better known by the pen name Edogawa Rampo, had two books in Penguin’s first 20, and while “Beast in the Shadows” (1928) deserved its resurrection, “The Black Lizard” (1934) didn’t reach that level, reading rather childishly at times. So what on earth to expect from this, his sixth novel featuring private detective Akechi Kogorō? Tokyo is in a feverish state after multiple sightings of a mysterious stranger dressed in a golden cape and hiding his (or her) face behind a gruesome mask. The tension peaks when the crook manages to pull off a heist at a major trade fair, stealing a valuable Japanese pearl from under the noses of the police and then somehow escaping from an impossible situation when cornered.

“The Labyrinth Makers” by Anthony Price (1970)

English author Price (1928-2019) was also among the initial 20 releases with his enjoyable “Other Paths To Glory”, now we go back to his first novel and which introduced his hero, David Audley, a British agent who is less sexy, elegant or brutal than James Bond but far more astute. The book earned him a Silver Dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association of the UK, a runner-up to their Gold Dagger. An RAF Dakota, presumed lost at sea during World War Two, has been found when a lake is drained lake over twenty years later, complete with the skeletal remains of the pilot and a strange cargo of rubble. Long-submerged secrets also resurface. Why are the Soviets so interested in it, even attending the dead man’s funeral? Why has unassuming civil servant Audley been tasked with leading the investigation and what was the plane carrying that some would kill for? In 1995 the Crime Writers’ Association ranked “The Labyrinth Makers” 73rd in its list of the 100 best crime novels.

“The Night Manager” by John le Carré (1993)

This spy novel received great reviews from the get-go and there was a six-episode television series in 2016, directed by the esteemed Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier. English writer Le Carré (1931-2020) is said to be at the top of his game in this classic novel of a world in chaos. With the Cold War over, a new era of espionage has begun. In the power vacuum left by the Soviet Union, arms dealers and drug smugglers have risen to immense influence and wealth. The sinister master of them all is Richard Onslow Roper, a charming, ruthless Englishman whose operation seems untouchable. Slipping into this maze of peril is Jonathan Pine, a former British soldier who’s now night manager of a posh hotel in Zurich. Having learned to hate and fear Roper more than any man on earth, Pine will to do whatever it takes to help the agents at Whitehall bring him down, and personal vengeance is only part of the reason.

“The Underground Man” by Ross Macdonald (1971)

When a chance encounter makes him a witness to the abduction of a child, private detective Lew Archer can’t help but be drawn into the case, pursuing a trail that leads all too quickly to murder. While forest fires rage in the hills around Los Angeles, threatening the homes of some of the city’s wealthiest, Archer unearths a hidden history of failed marriages, runaway children and a man’s life consumed by a search for the father who abandoned him. Ross Macdonald (1915-1983) mysteries are credited with rewriting the conventions of the detective novel, offering a credible, humane hero in Archer, and the American author’s insight and moral complexity won new literary respectability for the hardboiled genre pioneered by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

“We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson (1962)

Taking readers deep into a labyrinth of dark neurosis, this is touted as a deliciously unsettling tale about a perverse, isolated and possibly murderous family, and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate. That the Blackwood family is (mostly) dead is established in the first paragraph. How that happened is the mystery at the centre of a novel that finds plenty to fear, not only in the possibility of murder but also in the way the Blackwoods’ gossiping neighbours react to the surviving sisters, Mary Katherine and Constance. TIME named it one of the top 10 works of fiction in 1962, praising “the ironic miracle of convincing the reader that a house inhabited by a lunatic, a poisoner, and a pyromaniac is a world more rich in sympathy, love, and subtlety than the real world outside.” It was the final novel by American author Jackson, born in 1916, before her death from deteriorating health in 1965 age 48.

“Night at the Crossroads” by Georges Simenon (1931)

This is an early Maigret when the Belgian author (1903-1989) was feeling his way and action takes precedence over the psychological approach characteristic of the mature detective. Last reissued in 2014 in a new translation and cover, this is the third Maigret in the Crime and Espionage releases. The detective is either still very popular – or needs a boost.

“I Married A Dead Man” by Cornell Woolrich (1948)

American novelist and short story writer Woolrich (1903-1968) was a bit of a mystery himself, using the pen names Cornell Woolrich, George Hopley and William Irish. His biographer Francis Nevins Jr. rated him the fourth-best crime writer of his day behind Dashiell Hammett, Eric Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler. Little is known about his personal life. Woolrich was born in New York City and his parents separated when he was young. He lived for a time in Mexico with his father before returning to New York to live with his mother. Attending Columbia University, he dropped out of his senior year when his first novel “Cover Charge” was published in 1926. He continued writing and living with his mother. After she died, he socialised on occasion in Manhattan bars with Mystery Writers of America colleagues and younger fans, but alcoholism, diabetes and an amputated leg left him a recluse. He published 27 novels and 16 short story collections resulting in more than 40 films and TV theatre episodes based on his stories, including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” after his short story “It Had To Be Murder” in Dime Detective Magazine in 1942.

“From Russia With Love” by Ian Fleming (1957)

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