Kevin Burton Smith

A gift is a gift, but a book is a treasure. And this year sees books on or by three of the greatest mystery writers of all time; books that any true fan would treasure.

williams_lifeofraymondchandlerA Mysterious Something in the Light: The Life of Raymond Chandler
edited by Tom Williams
Chicago Review Press, September 2013, $29.95

It's been a while since anyone tackled Raymond Chandler—you've got to wonder what's left to find out—in such depth or with such passion, but this full-throttle study by rookie author Tom Williams gets right down to the nitty gritty, digging up all sorts of dirt, from child abuse to alcoholism, and sheds compelling new light on his works. The new standard by which all future biographies will be judged, it will have Chandler disciples fascinated—and non-fans wondering what the fuss is about. For those unfortunates, just give them a drink from the office bottle and hand them a copy of The Big Sleep.

laymen_hunteradnotherstoriesThe Hunter and Other Stories
edited by Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett
Mysterious Press, November 2013, $26.00

Dashiell's Hammett's The Hunter and Other Stories is a other-no-brainer gift for fans of the tough stuff. This volume, put together by Hammett scholar Richard Layman, and Hammett's granddaugher, Julie M. Rivett, a noted expert herself, raids the author's long-sealed personal files for a wealth of rare and unpublished material, including several short stories, three screen treatments and even a snippet of an uncompleted story featuring Sam Spade his own bad self. Not essential Hammett, perhaps, but essential for anyone who gives a damn about American crime fiction. But could we please find another pose of Hammett to use for the cover? That Thin Man schtick is wearing thin, man.

christieagatha_grandtourThe Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery
by Agatha Christie
William Morrow, September 2014, $19.99

Not that everything is brass knuckles, hard-bitten prose and flinty-eyed cynicism, of course. In the real world, there is still beauty, class and elegance, and Agatha Christie's The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery definitely focusses on the more genteel side of life; a time when young British married couples of a certain class, such as Christie and new hubby Archie, could park their infant daughter with a sister and take off on an almost-year-long jaunt to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Canada. Loaded with snapshots, as well as transcripts and reproductions of Christie's personal letters (mostly to her mother), it's a fascinating peek at a spirited new wife, mother and writer slowly coming into her own. Plus, any book featuring a photo of the future Grande Dame hanging with the beach boys and surfing in Hawaii just has to be seen. It came out too late to make last year's guide, but its recent release in softcover means there's really no excuse not to treat the Christie fan. Cowabunga, dudes...

temple_usanoirUSA Noir
edited by Johnny Temple
Akashic, November 2013, $29.95

For those who'd rather not worry about steamer trunks, porters and passports, and would prefer to keep their crime closer to home Akashic founder and editor Johnny Temple has just the ticket: USA Noir, a veritable greatest hits of the long-running, acclaimed noir series, rounding up solid gold blackness of the bleakest and darkest kind from the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, Don Winslow, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Ken Bruen, Megan Abbott, Reed Farrell Coleman, Laura Lippman, Lawrence Block, George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane and others, full of good ol' violence, deception, corruption, greed and murder. Like Chuck Berry sang, "Anything you want, we got right here in the USA."

weinman_troubleddaughterstwistedwivesTroubled Daughters, Twisted Wives
edited by Sarah Weinman
Penguin, August 2013, $26.00

For homebodies and other homicidal agoraphobiacs who REALLY want to keep their crime close without leaving the house, you can't really go wrong with Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, an eye-opening collection of homebound classic and ought-to-be classic stories from the domestic side of hardboiled and noir, stretching from the '40s through the '70s, with contributions from such acclaimed women authors as Helen Nielsen, Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Millar, Elisabeth Saxnay Holding, Dorothy B. Hughes and more, plus spot-on essays by Weinman on a too-often-neglected period in American crime writing, dispelling forever the notion of the '50s as "the good old days." Attention, Hubbies! See yourlittle lady over there running a thumb over the edge of the carving knife? She's studying the back of your neck...

ritt_paperbackconfidentialPaperback Confidential: Crime Writers of the Paperback Era
edited by Brian Ritt
Stark House, July 2013, $19.95

A few (but not enough) of the girls return in Paperback Confidential: Crime Writers of the Paperback Era, Brian Ritt's snappy, scrappy collection of profiles of the men and women who worked the black vein of crime for the burgeoning paperback market from the 1930s through the 1960s, covering everyone from the usual suspects (Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Woolrich, yawn) to almost-forgotten outliers (Gil Brewer, Norbert Davis, Brett Halliday, Day Keene, Charles Williams, David Goodis, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, Ennis Willie, Douglas Sanderson, and more). Surface-scratching bibliographies round outy each of the 132 brief entires, but it's Ritt's punchy, breezy take on these ink-stained miscreants that will stick with you—and have you prowling used bookstores like a junkie looking for H.

parker_silentnightSilent Night
by Robert B. Parker & Hellen Brann
Putnam, October 2013, $24.95

The story goes that the late Robert B. Parker was at his desk working on Silent Night, a holiday-themed Spenser novel, the morning he shuffled off this mortal coil, and that it was up to Helen Brann, his literary executor and long-time agent, to wrap it up and put a bow on it. Spenser's long-planned preparations for a spectacular Christmas feast are sidetracked when he and Hawk get involved in helping out an at-risk street kid. Kitchshy? Probably. A cynical attempt to cash in? Almost assuredly. But it's Spenser. Who else in crime fiction would you rather have preparing your holiday meal? Jack Reacher? Kinsey Millhone? Skink? The mind boggles... and the stomach lurches. A final gift from one of the true greats.

pensler_bigbookofchristmasThe Big Book of Christmas Mysteries
edited by Otto Penzler
Vintage Crime, October 2013, $25.00

Of course, the holidays and crime are no strangers to each other. Since at least 1892 when Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes goosing "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," mystery authors have been decking the halls with seasonal murder and mayhem. And so right on times comes The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries to round up all the usual suspects, as well as a few surprising outliers. Featuring the aforementioned classic tale by Doyle, as well as stories by Agatha Christie, Ed Gorman, Dick Lochte, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, Sara Paretsky, Ed McBain, Mary Higgins Clark, Ngaio Marsh, Peter Lovesey, Max Allan Collins, Stanley Ellin, John D. MacDonald, Damon Runyon; Donald E. Westlake, John Mortimer and more. The perfect book to while away the time, waiting for the intended victims relatives to arrive.