Monday, September 26, 2016

The First Crime Writers You Read



I have told the story of finding a table full of Agatha's on the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ about 1968. Phil and I sat in the ocean on low chairs reading them one after another. So Christie was my first venture in crime fiction after the ones for kids. And after her, I read Ruth Rendell, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, John D. Macdonald, Ross Macdonald, Margaret Millar, Sjowal and Wahloo, Nicholas Freeling, Rex Stout, Emma Lathen, Patricia Moyes and so on.

Every once in a while, someone online talks about their early reading and I realize there were many writers I never touched. I never read Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, Mickey Spillane, David Goodis, Jim Thompson, Dashiell Hammett, James Cain, Horace McCoy and so many more.

Why? Well basically I read what my library bought. (It was a very long time before I bought many books other than those at used book sales). And I doubt my libraries bought any fiction that was not published in hardback. Or anything too violent. That would eliminate the writers found on spinner racks. If I opened a book and it seemed  too male-oriented I probably didn't read it either. Unlike Megan, I was not particular attracted to the more noirish stories. But soon I also wasn't attracted to cozies. I fell somewhere in between. Ruth Rendell would probably sum me up.

A long way of getting to my question: who were the first adult crime fiction writers you read?

31 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Mine were Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and a couple of espionage thriller writers.

Jerry House said...

My first foray was with Leslie McFarlane who wrote the first Hardy Boys books under the "Franklin W. Dixon" house name.

My first adult crime writer was Erle Stanley Gardner (I was a big fan of the PERRY MASON television show). I then moved on to Agatha Christie, Mickey Spillane, and Richard S. Prather. By 1960, I was buying EQMM and discovering so many other writers. Around the same time, I picked up one of those Gold Medal Fu Manchus by Sax Rohmer.

I split my time pretty evenly between mysteries and SF.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Erle Stanley Gardner is the first I remember. As with many other books then, I read the stuff my mother bought. She also got Readers Digest Condensed Books (remember those?) and I first read quite a few things in that somewhat abridged format.

After Gardner, it was Conan Doyle (Hound of the Baskervilles) and Christie (And Then There Were None) that I remember, but before all of them were things I remember reading as a kid in summer camp at about 13 - Richard S. Prather's Shell Scott and Earl Norman's Burns Bannion, plus Fleming's early James Bond books.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

When I first delved into mysteries big-time, after our belated honeymoon in London in April of 1971, it was Christie, then Sayers, plus Simenon.

pattinase (abbott) said...

So strange our pathways tended to started in the same place but quickly diverged. I never heard of Prather for instance.

George said...

I started reading TOM SWIFT books as a kid, then graduated to the HARDY BOYS. After that I read paperbacks of Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, carter brown, the Mike Shayne DELL paperbacks, and Ellery Queen. I'm hooked on mysteries for Life!

Gerard said...

For adult fiction I bought Dashiell Hammett paperback reprints. I recall buying a John Gardner JAMES BOND novel and my brother borrowed it. He took the book to school and it fell to the bottom of his locker and got mangled. I was kinda ticked off because the book was mine, and kinda did not care since I already read it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I cannot remember a bookstore in my childhood. It was all libraries for me.
I do remember Gimbels, the only dept. store in my neighborhood, has a book section. They truly were department stories then.

Walker Martin said...

With me it was Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross Macdonald. Then I started collecting the pulp detective titles like BLACK MASK, DIME DETECTIVE, and DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY. I also started on original paperbacks like Ace, Gold Medal, Lion, etc.

Dana King said...

Arthur Conan Doyle, though I'm sure there are those who might think of him as YA by today's standards. The first serious business adult crime fiction I read was by Mickey Spillane.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I remember the Macy's book department in Herald Square, now long gone.

J F Norris said...

As might be expected the first mysteries I read were the oldies: Christie (who I first read when I was 14), Queen, Van Dine, Carr, Stout, Marsh, Gardner, Hammett, Chandler. I don't count Conan Doyle because we read him as part of the regular English curriculum in junior high school (7th grade, so I must've been 13).

The first contemporary adult writers I read were Ruth Rendell, Sheila Radley, Antonia Fraser, and Robert Barnard all of whom started in the early 1970s. Rendell started in the 60s, but I always think of her as a 70s-80s writer. These I didn't read until I was in high school. I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that the first adult hardcover book I purchased was DEATH OF A LITERARY WIDOW by Robert Barnard. Everything up until then was a paperback or I took out from our local library.

Nancy Humphrys said...

Great Question!
From Nancy Drew to Martin Beck,Grijpstra and De Gier,scary Ruth Rendell characters, Phillip Marlowe and Hoke Moseley...
But I will never forget meeting a certain Kinsey Millhone, who is a smart aleck, just like me.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Welcome, Nancy!
I never heard of Ace or Gold Medal until,I began hanging out with you'uns.

Richard Robinson said...

Pretty much the same story, I read Hardy Boys as a kid, and Sherlock Holmes, but then was a SF and fantasy reader, but when I was about 25 I got snowed in at a cabin and all there was to read was a stack of Christe paperbacks - all Poirot novels. After that I read more Christie, and Allingham, PD James, Sayers, and so on until I came across Chandler. Then it was all his books, all of Hammett, then John D McDonald, Ross Mcdonald, and a lot more hard-boiled authors.

Richard Robinson said...

I remember getting a lot of books from the library when I was younger, but by high school I was buying paperbacks. I also remember the book department in Robinson's, The Broadway, Macy's, and Bullocks, all but Macy's not sadly gone, and it not having books any more.

Richard Robinson said...

These days? Like you, Patti, a lot of it is what the library provides, often driven by Friday Forgotten Book reviews, and reviews on other blogs. What shall I do when, as is said, blogs die out?

Kent Morgan said...

I did read Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys, but the first adult books were the paperbacks my father bought: Erle Stanley Gardner, A.A. Fair, George Harmon Coxe and Brett Halliday, I know I have mentioned before that the choices were limited while living in a Canadian town north of 53 that had no town library and no bookstore and a limited amount of paperbacks for sale at the local tobacco store. I'm positive Agatha Christie must have been on the racks, but my father didn't read her.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My mother read Erle Stanley Gardner and I think that kept me away from those books. They seemed dated. The book Murders Ink was a huge influence for me.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

Crime writers I read early on were Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, John D. MacDonald, Jim Thompson, Richard Prather ,Eric Ambler, and Margaret Millar. Never liked Spillane who I thought a lousy writer. Never much cared for Agatha Christie or Erle Stanley Gardner

Anonymous said...

My mother was an avid reader and loved Christie. As a result, I read a lot of Christie (along with the other Queens--Sayers, Marsh, Tey, etc.) in my youth and young adulthood. But as I got older (and began reading a wider variety of fiction), I left mysteries behind. Then, in 1996, my mother-in-law gave me a copy of WRITTEN IN BLOOD by Caroline Graham (one of the Midsummer Murders). I devoured it and knew I wanted to read more like it. From that point on, mysteries became a huge part of my reading life.

--Deb

pattinase (abbott) said...

I spent years reading mostly literary fiction. But I came back and now it's about 50/50. And it's not about quality. Just topics that interest me. Or writers.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

With me it was more what kind of mystery to read, rather than mysteries vs. other fiction for many years. In the mid-'70s I read Hammett and Chandler and then read a ton of first person PI novels for a few years. Before that I'd gone through a police procedural phase. I also read a lot of spy novels at one point. In October of 1993 I discovered Peter Robinson and Reginald Hill, which led me to a lot of other somewhat similar British writers. And in the summer of 1995 I decided to commit myself to read at least one short story a day, every day. I've missed the odd day since (no more than two or three days in a year), but have always made it up. These have included more and more "straight" fiction authors as the years have gone on, plus a lot more science fiction (which I didn't read a lot of as a kid) recently (as well as SF novels).

In non fiction, in the first half of the 1970s I was reading nearly every book on the movies I could get my hands on. (There were a lot fewer of them then.) I also read tons of books about baseball. Then it was literary criticism, biography and autobiography.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I've done a lot of that sort of skipping around too. I, in fact, used to read Roger Angel's book religiously. (And who was the other guy who wrote about baseball). Have always enjoyed Pauline Kael type of books too.

neer said...

I started with The Five Find-Outers, Famous Five and other kid sleuths of Enid Blyton; moved on to Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and the Three Investigators, dabbled a bit in the Holmes Canon, also tried Alistair Maclean but the first 'adult' mystery writers were Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, and James Hadley Chase.

Max Allan Collins said...

I started with Hammett, then Chandler, then Spillane. From there James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, W.R. Burnett, Chester Himes, Ian Fleming, and Horace McCoy. Discovering Westlake/Stark at 18 was a big deal for me. I also like Erle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie and Rex Stout. The underrated masters are Spillane and Christie. The former is a noir poet with an ability to craft first-person dialogue and narration that seems to tumble out of a mouth that has a cigarette going, and abrupt stunning endings. Christie is masterful with plot but her characters are not cardboard, as often is the criticism, and -- great playwright that she was -- dialogue is a strong suit. Gardner is also underrated -- his courtroom scenes are terrific, and Mason tales hinge on sex and business, not unlike Cain. I came to Stout late and it's been a wonderful discovery -- the perfect mingling of traditional and hardboiled.

These are still the writers I read.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Funny how different our paths are. I think if we were mostly science fiction, western or fantasy readers we would come at it more often from the same place.

Max Allan Collins said...

I find it unimaginable that writers could come to hardboiled (okay, noir) fiction and not do so without Hammett, Chandler, Cain and Spillane. I leave out Ross MacDonald because I find him to be a Chandler imitator who tries too hard, but he did write some very good books. I also read Richard Prather's Shell Scott series, a good deal of Charles Williams and of course some John D. MacDonald. Also Ennis Willie, Jonathan Latimer and Ted Lewis (of GET CARTER fame).


Charles Gramlich said...

John D has been my major read in this field, although as an adult I've read Hammett, Chandler, Thompson, Goodis etc.

Kent Morgan said...

The other baseball guy probably was Roger Kahn, whose best-known book is The Boys of Summer.

Elgin Bleecker said...

Interesting post, Patti. It stirred a lot of memories. A collection of Sherlock Holmes stories was my introduction to adult crime and mystery writing.