Sep 12 2017 12:00pm

Second Acts: The Second Novels of Six Great Crime Writers

Read this exclusive guest post from John Keyse-Walker about the second novels of six of the greatest crime writers ever, then make sure to sign in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of Keyse-Walker's second novel, Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed!


I am in the happy position of having my second novel, Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed, published this month. Besides inspiring thoughts of potential novels three, four, and five, the occasion started me thinking about second novels, generally, and the second efforts of some of the greats of crime writing, in particular. A bit of research on six of the great names yielded these interesting facts about their second try at long-form prose:

Agatha Christie

The prolific grande dame of mystery and crime wrote 73 novels in her career. She was already hitting her stride with her second, The Secret Adversary (1922). The story of the book centers around secret papers given to a young woman passenger on the Lusitania as it was sinking after being torpedoed by a German submarine at the start of WWI. The work introduces two recurring characters, Thomas “Tommy” Beresford and Priscilla “Tuppence” Crowley, young adventurers who fall in love with each other and with detecting in this first of four novels in which they appear. Even at this early stage of her career, Christie had what it took to be successful—The Secret Adversary was made into a silent movie, two television series (the most recent in 2014), a stage play in 2015, and a graphic novel.

Raymond Chandler

Arguably the best prose writer in genre fiction, Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely is his second book with the iconic Philip Marlowe as its protagonist. It may also be the masterwork of the seven novels Chandler published, a near-flawless melding of his “matter of style, not formula” writing, a classic wrong time/right place storyline, and a cast of memorable characters in support of Marlowe. Better than the more well-known The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely was adapted for three films—starring George Sanders, Dick Powell, and Robert Mitchum, respectively, as Marlowe—two radio presentations, and a stage play.

John D. MacDonald

Murder for the Bride (1951) predated MacDonald’s famous Travis McGee series. Set in New Orleans, it tells the story of an oil contractor who marries a mysterious woman only to find her murdered when he returns from a business trip. The book follows the protagonist’s efforts to find the killer, during which are displayed all of the classic John D. MacDonald elements: characters with depth and heart, crisp dialogue, rapid pacing, and a feeling for the mood and ambiance of the 1950’s New Orleans location. This may not have been the popular hit that the Travis McGee novels were, but it foreshadows their greatness.

Ngaio Marsh

The New Zealand-born Marsh has been called one of the four original queens of crime, along with Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Margery Allingham. Her second novel, Enter a Murderer (1935), was also her second with her beloved Inspector Roderick Alleyn as her principle character. It was also the start of her series of crime novels set in or associated with the world of theater, which became her trademark plot location. The title is actually taken from a line of stage direction in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Elmore Leonard

This crime giant’s second effort was, like his debut, not a crime novel at all. Leonard began his career writing Westerns, and his 1954 Law at Randado is in that classic genre. In it, a young sheriff’s deputy and his older counterpart track a lynch mob. While predating his more successful crime novels, Law at Randado features the Leonard hallmarks of strong character and sparkling dialogue. The book became a film in 1990 as Border Shootout, notable only because it was Glenn Ford’s last Western.

Dashiell Hammett

The Dain Curse (1929) was the second of only five novels by Hammett. Its central character, the unnamed Continental Op, made his second appearance in the book, following a successful debut in Red Harvest. Of Hammett’s novels, The Dain Curse is the least of the lot—much overshadowed by The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man—but it still displays the quick pacing, hardboiled action, and spare but authentic dialogue for which he is known. The book was adapted as a television miniseries in 1978, winning an Edgar Award for Best Television Feature or Miniseries and receiving three Emmy nominations.

The lesson to be drawn from these six greats? A great debut is rarely eclipsed by a second novel, but second efforts are usually emblematic of an author’s style and strengths. Take a look at one of the second novels mentioned here. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed by John Keyse-Walker!

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Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2017/09/second-acts-the-second-novels-of-six-great-crime-writers-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) September 12, 2017. Sweepstakes ends 11:59 a.m. ET September 19, 2017. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


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John Keyse-Walker practiced law for 30 years, representing business and individual clients, educational institutions, and government entities. He is an avid salt- and freshwater angler, a tennis player, kayaker, and an accomplished cook. He lives in Ohio with his wife. His first novel, Sun, Sand, Murder, was the winner of the 2015 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
5. Saramarg
John, I loved the first in this series. Can't wait to read this one.
Susan Robinette
6. susanrob
Enjoyed your article. Would love to win your novel!
Marjorie Manharth
7. mmanharth
Wonder if the Virgin Islands are still there after Irma. Would love to read your novels.
Rose Jones
8. mamarosiefour
Second novels are interesting reflections on an author.
Janice Santillo
9. themommazie
I loved all of Agatha Christie's books My favorite author since I was a kid.
Michael Carter
10. rubydog
Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
11. pegkeohane
sweepstakes for 2nd novels...I am in...long time mystery book fan.
13. normajean
Good article on great crime writers. Will need to check them out. Would love to win a copy of your newest novel......"Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed! "
14. jav9206
I started with Erle Stanley Gardner as a teenager and moved over to Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I tried Ngaio Marsh but just couldn't get into the writings. I loved the blog post on Exploding Cows and this posting on 2nd novels. Fascinating!
Judy Shaw
15. jav9206
I started with Erle Stanley Gardner as a teenager and moved over to Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I tried Ngaio Marsh but just couldn't get into the writings. I loved the blog post on Exploding Cows and this posting on 2nd novels. Fascinating!
16. Carl Scott
Interesting list, I was unfamiliar with most of those second efforts. Not this one though, it looks great. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.
shannon calvin
17. calvin_renee
I've always wondered about this but have not explored to much. Would love to hear your take on the matter. Wasn't to long ago that forehead measurements ment MANY things later proved false.
18. Carl Scott
What an idyllic setting for grisly crime . Hitchcock would approve. Thanks for the chance to win.
Peter W. Horton Jr.
19. mosaix
Winning will be my first and second acts! Yes!
ellie lewis
20. italia
Thanks for this fabulous feature and giveaway.
pearl berger
22. beach
This was fascinating and your book would be captivating.
Wendy Barker
24. gypsysmom
I haven't read any of those second novels you mentioned so it would be great to win yours.
Lori Provenzano
25. Mountainesque
Enjoyed this. Had only heard of a few of these titles and am glad that they're all receiving the attention they deserve.
susan beamon
26. susanbeamon
Lots of times when I start a new author, it is with book 5 or 6. Then I usually go back for the others.
John Smith
27. jsmith2jsmith
I've never read the Tommy and Tuppence books, but I do know how to pronounce Ngaio Marsh!
vickie dailey
28. kidcurry
I had not heard of the 2nd Agatha Christie novel -thought I had read them all until I saw a Tommy & Tupence show on PBS
Susan Illis
30. sillis
I'm embarrassed to admit that as much as I love mysteries, I haven't read a lot of the classics, listed above. I really need to quit my job or get rid of my kids; they're cutting into my reading time!
Janet West
33. janetwest
This book looks interesting-looks like a good mystery!
Janet West
33. janetwest
This book looks interesting-looks like a good mystery!
Laurent Latulippe
35. krag48
Souns like an interesting read. Looking forward to it.
36. Polly Barlow
I not only want to read "Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed" but now want to read or reread the second novel of these great writers.
39. Donna Mae
From what I have read in the article, I really want to read BEACH, BREEZE, BLOODSHED. It appears to be a great mystery and I like mysteries. I love Agatha Christie books also.
Thanks for the chance at this giveaway.
Kiera Thomas
40. Elderwand
Beach, Breeze, and Bloodshed looks like a great mystery to read! It would be awesome to get a chance to read and review it!
Barbara Eveland
42. evenflow
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to win your second book, Beach, Breeze, and Bloodshed. Please keep up the great work!
Susan Gainen
44. susangainen
I look forward to your second act, and appreciate your excellent appreciation of six of my favorite authors. THANK YOU.
Wilifred Alire
45. walire
Loved Sun, Sand, Murder, luckily it was brought by my public library; would like my own copy of Beach, Breeze and Bloodshed.
Caroline Ober
46. fishhook
Really look forward to reading this especially if I win my own copy.
Thomas Walker
50. twalker
Great article. would love to win the book!
Thomas Walker
50. twalker
Great article. would love to win the book!
Robert Grieco
51. RobG
Dang - That's one intriguing piece of wordwork. :)
Sally Schmidt
54. bigcootie
Second and subsequent novels are often better than an author's debut work, because they seem to be hitting their stride. Would love to win this second book!
Richard Derus
55. expendablemudge
Best idea for an attraction article and giveaway yet. I hope I win, the book and series sound really perfect for me.
Clydia DeFreese
58. clydia
I love to read 2nd novels, or 3rd or 4th, etc. of authors. I also like to read them in order. So I look forward to winning....Thanks for the sweeps.
Margot Core
59. AnnaZed
I'm a big 'Farewell My Lovely' fan, and I'm looking forward to your sophmore outing too!
64. helen martin
All the greats! What a wonderful selection.
Tracy Gibson
65. tracygib
This is so exciting!!! Great selection. #lovetoread
Jennifer Hodges
66. ViolinGeek
My TBR list is sooooo long. And, getting longer!!!
Marisa Young
67. Risa
Interesting post. Would love to win these books.
johnna smith
68. johnnabooks@hotmail.com
This was an interesting article. thank you for the chance to win a copy of the new release!
70. LStirling
I think sometimes it's mentally/emotionally harder for an author to get out the second book when the first book has done well. So, kudos to all the second books out there. I would love to read John Keyse-Walker's second.
Sharon Shumway
71. Shellen
I would love to be on the Beach, feeling the
Breeze and reading about Bloodshed. A perfect day.
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