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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.