Suzanne Arruda, Author of the Jade del Cameron Mystery series set in 1920’s Africa www.suzannearruda.com http://suzannearruda.blogspot.com/
TRADER HORN by Alfred Aloysius Horn
Come on board a steamer bound for the African Ivory Coast in the 1870’s. Slip up previously uncharted rivers
and trade for rubber and other goods with cannibal tribes. Meet the founder of Rhodesia, and take a missionary woman upriver.
Join a secret fraternity, the Egbo society, to worship a jungle spirit and meet a living white goddess. In short,
travel with Trader Horn.
Most people who have heard of Trader Horn will likely associate it with the 1931 motion picture of the same name.
And while that film is a classic, the book that it is based on is a rare gem among African tales.
Trader Horn is not a fictionalized adventure tale. It is the real account of Alfred Aloysius Horn who went to sea as a young man around 1870 and became the first white man to pilot some of the rivers in Western Africa.
When he recounts his experiences, it’s as an old man, down on his luck and peddling housewares to housewives. It’s in this capacity that he meets South African novelist, Ethelreda Lewis. She convinces him to write down his memories and turn them into her for publication. Ms. Lewis takes these accounts as Mr. Horn wrote them, then adds her records of their personal conversations. And therein is one of the treasures of this volume. We hear the true voice of the man.
That voice is not one of false bragging nor of disdain for the wild tribesmen that he met. It’s one of a genuine good soul who truly loved Africa and its peoples. Instead of a treatise on horrifying peoples and hyped up tales of bravado, we see the Ivory Coast through the eyes of someone who truly appreciated it. It makes his accounts of battles and near escapes all the more believable since they aren’t painted over with self-pride or feelings of superiority.
In short, for all who have seen the movie, the book is better.
Rafe McGregor is the author of the forthcoming The Architect of Murder. You can find him at: http://rafemcgregor.blogspot.com/ Go look at Rafe's other nine choices.
THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS, Hans Hellmut Kirst
It probably seems strange to choose, as a ‘forgotten’ book, one that is not only still in print as a mass market paperback, but was also made into a very successful film. The Night of the Generals was released in 1967, five years after the novel was first published (in German), with Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif in the lead roles. O’Toole had recently appeared as T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia and played his part to perfection alongside an all-star supporting cast which included the likes of Christopher Plummer and Harry Andrews. Forty years on, however, the novel behind the film is largely forgotten, and only kept in print by Cassell Military Paperbacks; Cassell produce some excellent books, but their line is almost exclusively military history and biography. Kirst himself was a Second World War veteran who wrote both war and crime fiction, the former illustrating how the Nazi influence had corrupted the traditions of the Wehrmacht, and the latter concerning a detective in 1960s Munich.
Despite being set during the Second World War, The Night of the Generals is very definitely crime fiction, a clever murder mystery presented in the style of a police procedural. It shares some similarities with Nelson Demille’s The General’s Daughter, but is larger in concept – concerning a series of crimes committed over fourteen years – and faster paced, beginning with the protagonist – Major Grau – and the Polish police at the first crime scene, in Warsaw in 1942. A witness gives evidence as to the uniform of the killer, from which Grau is able to identify the suspect as one of three German generals in the city. Two years later, in Paris, Grau and the same three generals are reunited by the murder of a second woman. It’s impossible to reveal more of the plot (which differs from the film) without spoiling the end, suffice to say that a third murder occurs in Dresden, in East Germany, in 1956. The film is good, but as is so often the case, the book is better. A really tense, gripping mystery, full of surprises.
Nancy Pickard is the award-winning author of The Virgin of Small Plains and Seven Steps on the Writer's Path
WHY THEY KILL by Richard Rhodes
Means, motive, and opportunity are the three classic clues in a crime story, but they bore me, even though I’m a mystery writer.
They may point to a killer, but they’re a shallow approach to thinking about violent crime. Much more interesting, at least to me
is the deeper issue of why and how people become victims or perpetrators.
The most believable explanation I’ve ever read of how a person becomes a violent criminal is contained in Richard Rhodes' book about the biography and theories of the criminologist, Lonnie H. Athens, PhD. The book, Why They Kill, came out in 1999
from Knopf, and failed to catch on with the general public even though Rhodes is a Pulitzer Prize winning author of big, important books. I think the problem with this book is two-fold: it is awkwardly balanced between biography and reportage, when it might have been more smoothly mixed, and the main thrust of Athens’ discoveries goes against the grain of conventional
thinking on the subject. Take this sentence, for instance:
Violentization is an authentic developmental process, and unless someone has undergone it . . he will not become a dangerous violent criminal.
If that bold and unequivocal statement catches your attention, then you may want to read the entire book that supports it.
My own copy is heavily underlined, asterisked, and highlighted. It has changed forever the way I view certain clichés such as the “nice guy/good neighbor” killer or the “bad seed” criminal.
The contents of Why They Kill are startling, revealing, and could be revolutionary if enough people paid attention to them.
I don’t think that will happen, but I appreciate this chance to give this book a little boost from the sidelines.
Tom Whitmore was a partner for over 30 years in The Other Change of Hobbit (www.otherchangeofhobbit.com),
a science-fiction specialty store with an excellent mystery selection. He wrote reviews for Locus (www.locusmag.com) for several years, and is now living in Seattle.
KING AND JOKER by Peter Dickinson
Peter Dickinson is on my list of the best writers of fiction of the twentieth century. No one book can show just how amazing his range is. King and Joker comes close. It's an alternate history set in its own time (1972), featuring a British royal family that is quite different from the one we had then. It's a mystery, with more than one murder and very skillfully planted clues to allow any reader who wants to try to figure out whodunnit to do so. And it shows just how good Dickinson is at writing from the point of view of a particular character.
There are two viewpoint characters in this book. The first is the thirteen-year-old Princess Louise, the daughter of the royal family who is discovering that her family is much more complex than she thought. She's been raised with the difference between public and private faces: not every schoolgirl gets followed by cameras as she enters the schoolyard. Her family has more faces than that: and the faces start showing as a practical joker starts leaving unpleasant surprises for various members of the family. It's apparently illegal in the UK to write fiction featuring the current British royal family as characters, which gives Dickinson a very good chance to write about the complexities of a very unconventional family that has to appear totally conventional. Louise learns to come to grips with the fact that her parents have been involved in a long-term polyamorous relationship -- one that even predates her conception. Dickinson looks at what love may mean in a non-traditional family, and did so at a time when very few people were willing to explore it.
The other viewpoint character is the venerable governess Miss Durdon (known within the family as Durdy), who has raised three generations of royal children. Many of the crowned heads of Europe have passed through the kingdom of her nursery. She's now completely bedridden, able to move just two fingers of her left hand, and subject to going drifting in time to a period when she was just starting out as a governess. Back then, she chose between personal love and love of the family of royals. The choice is an explicit and specific one, and she remembers it well. Durdy and Louise use very different languages: it's always obvious who's speaking. And they're both concentrating on what family really means, and what bonds are important. Their choices are very different, and very clearly right for each.
King and Joker seems to have slid under a lot of people's radar screens. It's a strong statement in favor of people making their own decisions about who is and isn't family, the pernicious nature of trying to make only one type of family or love acceptable, and what it can mean to take a stand. This book was well ahead of its time. Re-reading it for this comment gave me the same kind of shock that some people have on re-reading Heinlein and discovering that he'd predicted metal detectors at (the equivalent of) airports. Sympathetic lesbian characters and fully polyamorous families weren't common in literature at all then. They're commoner now, but still not fully accepted.
All that political and social commentary aside, it's a cracking good read. It's well paced, with some very good unexpected revelations that are headslappingly obvious once they're revealed. The question of what the joker will do next, and who will be targeted, gets more gripping as the jokes get less pleasant. Read the book first for the top-notch mystery story it is; come back to it for the politics. Any really good book succeeds on more than one level.
Check out these sites for more forgotten books:
Patrick Shawn Bagley
Terrie Farley Moran
Scott D. Parker