|An author out standing in his field|
They recently featured an interesting piece by Dave Zeltserman in which he described his "personal Mount Rushmore of crime fiction writers."
It's a fun concept. Can you reduce the pantheon of the greats down to four?
I'm not going to reveal Mr. Z's choices, because you should definitely go read his piece for yourself, but I will list my own and invite you to do the same in the comments. You will find that I overlap with his, but we are not identical.
My monument is arranged in the order I discovered the writers.
Rex Stout. The first adult mystery writer I found after Conan Doyle. He was the pusher who got me hooked. Stout is all about character and voice.
Nero Wolfe: "Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth."
Archie Goodwin: “When the day finally comes that I tie Wolfe to a stake and shoot him, one of the fundamental reasons will be his theory that the less I know the more I can help, or to put it another way, that everything inside my head shows on my face. It only makes it worse that he doesn’t really believe it.
Occasionally Stout has moments of plotting excellence (e.g. Too Many Cooks) but more often Wolfe and Archie have to carry him over bumps in the road.
Donald E. Westlake. I first read his story "Come Back, Come Back," in one of those Alfred Hitchcock paperbacks. It was a dead serious story about a cop suffering from a possibly fatal heart condition trying to convince a wealthy, perfectly healthy business executive not to commit suicide.
In high school I discovered his early comic classics, what David Bratman called "the nephew books," in which some luckless schmuck finds himself in deep doodoo (The Spy in the Ointment, God Save the Mark, etc.) By the time Dortmunder tried (and tried and tried...) to steal The Hot Rock I was hooked. Westlake was the master of chaos, crisply described. Movies based on his books usually failed because they couldn't capture his narrative tone.
Dashiell Hammett. I confess I am not a fan of most of his novels (the exception being you-know-what). But the Continental Op is everything the private eye story wants to be. And could that man write an ending! I'd give several toes to write a last paragraph as good as the one in "The Gutting of Couffignal."
Stanley Ellin. Like Hammett, he had one great novel. Stronghold is about a young man who grew up bitter on the outskirts of a community of modern Quakers (Ellin was one). As a full-fledged adult psycho he brings back a gang to kidnap all of their women, yearning for either ransom or a bloody shootout with the cops. But the Quakers won't cooperate with violence, even by calling the police.
Ellin's genius was for the short story. "You Can't Be A Little Girl All Your Life" was a story about rape a decade before its time. "The Question" is a quiet reflection by an executioner that turns into a stunning social comment. And "The Payoff," well, the ending is just a punch in the gut.
So, while I brush away the stone scraps and clean off my carving tools: Who would you put on your mountain, and why?
*Also, Trace Evidence, from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.