50 Mystery Novels by Women Crime Writers, Read in a Year

  • Post by Molly Odintz

The list below is the tip of the cold, murderous iceberg when it comes to works by women crime novelists, but like any other list, it’s a good place to start.

With my yearly New Year’s Resolutions, most of which I will never revisit, I usually come up some kind of reading project, based around genres, authors, or settings I’ve neglected. 2015’s goal? Best not mentioned, as I miserably failed in my efforts to complete it. 2016’s reading goal? Read fifty books by women, and if possible, fifty works of crime fiction by women; not just new releases, but also classic noir and domestic suspense. With the release of Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s, we’ve entered a new era of publisher and reader support for crime fiction classics by women.

Many of the books below are part of the zeitgeist – you’ll see a lot of girls in the title. I’ve also tried to focus on reading some of their antecedents, and you’ll see works on the list from Dorothy Hughes, Daphne Du Maurier, Margaret Millar, Patricia Highsmith, and other classic women crime writers of mid-century America, plus a couple of golden age works from Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. You won’t find many representatives of the tough second-wave protagonists of the 80s and 90s, or many works in translation – both areas, I’m sorry to admit, I neglected in the past year.

You will find quite a few books set in Texas, and some that have yet to be released; both quirks of a bookseller’s reading habits, as we tend to dive deep into the literature of our areas, and often receive early copies of upcoming releases.

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Molly’s Top Ten U.S.-set Crime Novels of 2016

Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

97803162310771. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

16-year-old Devon has spent her life perfecting soaring vaults, gravity-defying balance beam routines, and ferocious tumbling, all with a one-day-dream of going to the Olympics. Her entire hometown is rooting for her success. When a handsome volunteer at the gym is found dead, the whole gymnastics team is thrown into disarray. No one in town, not even the dead man’s family, want Devon distracted from bringing home the gold. In the face of sublime talent, who dares punish a misdeed?

97803932855432. Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet

This hard-to-peg-down tale of a voices-hearing mother and her young daughter on the run from their conniving politician patriarch was my favorite literary mystery of 2016. Millet’s protagonists, after fleeing Alaska, find refuge in a motel in Maine full of others like them. There, they form a support group, even as the protagonist’s husband exerts increasing pressure to have a picture perfect family by the election. Sweet Lamb of Heaven is part thriller, part gothic ghost story, and part exploration of language, making the final product wholly unique.

97811019823583. The Girl Before by Rena Olson

Olson works as a marriage therapist, which must be why the dysfunctional relationship at the core of The Girl Before reads as so convincing. In Olson’s debut, the reader follows a woman through interrogations in prison and flashbacks to her young life. Is she the culprit in her husband’s misdeeds, or is she an innocent victim?

97803162677244. IQ by Joe Ide

While every year brings new additions to the Holmesian canon, IQ was by far my favorite Sherlockian tale of the year. IQ follows Isaiah Quintabe, IQ for short, a putupon genius living in South Central LA. IQ weaves back and forth between Isaiah’s youth, as he devises a criminal enterprise with his best friend and new roommate, and his adulthood, as he comes into a new career solving mysteries for folks in the neighborhood. A case involving a drugged-out rapper who can’t finish his album may be Isaiah’s, and his best friend Dodson’s, big break – if they can stay alive long enough to solve it.

97816819902795. Collected Millar: The Master at her Zenith by Margaret Millar

Syndicate Books, with SoHo as their distributor, are bringing 1950s Queen of Suspense Margaret Millar’s complete works back into print. By the end of 2017, all six affordable volumes will have reached our shelves – which together, form a deliciously creepy image of domestic suspense across the spine. We give thanks to the editors for bringing Millar’s strongest novels back into print first, in this four-volume anthology, which includes Millar’s most chilling work, Beast in View. 

97816819902866. Collected Millar: Legendary Novels of Suspense

Once you finish the first volume of Millar’s collected works, you’ll feel the urge to immediately move on to the next! Collected Millar: Legendary Novels of Suspense includes works that challenge the stability of our identity, question society’s values, and acknowledge that the most hidden of secrets may be the most forgiveable of infractions, and the least worthy of having been hidden at all…The stories in this volume also highlight Millar’s grasp on psychology, including motivation and self-deception.

97805449209587. Good As Gone by Amy Gentry

Gentry has long been a figure in the Austin literary scene, and I’m pleased to have gotten a chance to talk to both Amy and the world about how much I love her Houston-set debut. Good As Gone follows a mother as she and her family welcome home who they believe to be their long-lost, kidnapped daughter. Flashback sequences from the young woman’s perspective keep the reader guessing as to her identity and her experiences.

97816162056218. Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

Wohlsdorf, a lifetime devotee of slasher movies, labeled her debut as a slasher novel, and this tale of terror is sure to thrill with is careful plotting, surprising emotional weight, and experimental structure. As a hotel prepares for its grand opening, killers stalk its long halls, captured by the hotel’s security cameras, even as hotel staff remains blissfully unaware of the danger lurking…

97800624297049. Sunset City by Melissa Ginsburg 

An underemployed barista searches the highways of Houston for answers in her best friend’s murder. Ginsburg’s debut is a heady, hazy mix of drugs, sex, and alcohol, as her protagonist seeks comfort as much as answers. A twist at the end makes Sunset City a complete mystery, and one which could serve as a primer on how to pass the Bechdel Test.

978006208345610. Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

Lippman’s 2016 standalone, Wilde Lake, is firmly within the “unreliable/unlikable narrator” category of mystery fiction. When a prosecutor returns to her hometown to live with her aging father, she takes on a case that leads to revelations about her own past, complicating her memories of her mother and of a shocking incident during her high school years.

9780765336378Honorable mention: Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall

Land of Shadows came out in 2015, which is the only reason it’s not on the list above – Hall released a second installment of her series in May of 2016, Trail of Echoes (as was properly pointed out to me in a comment on this post), that would certainly have made it onto my top list for the year…if I had managed to finish reading it before the end of the year. Alas, I’ll have to wait for 2017 to review it properly.

In Land of Shadows, Howzell Hall’s debut, her protagonist, Detective Louise Norton, takes on the case of a murdered cheerleader found on a construction site. The owner of the site is anxious to get the project back on track – is his impetus drawn from ordinary business interest, or something shadier? Detective Norton, still stung by the city’s lackluster investigation of her sister’s disappearance, is bound and determined to discover why someone would take the life of such a promising young woman. Land of Shadows features a strong, intelligent, cynical, wise-cracking, feminist, African-American protagonist in a genre that frequently ignores such perspectives, and is a welcome addition to the genre and to my reading library. Plus, it’s got a dynamite ending!

You can find all of the books listed above on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Sarah Weinman

  • Interview by Molly Odintz

For the past few decades a sense of a crime novel canon, a set of essential classics, has taken on form and substance. We can all acknowledge the innovators and masters of the genre,  yet unless we contemplate golden-era British detective fiction, most of the authors already incorporated into the crime fiction canon are male. And yet, those names make up only a part of crime fiction’s history.

“I think it’s important to note that feminism is something that is present in terms of a reflection of the lives these women led, not necessarily because they themselves identified with the cause…The wonderful thing about feminism is it includes everyone, whether they really want to be there or not, because the tenets are so simple: equality for both genders.”

Women have always made up a substantial chunk of the most popular writers in the genre, whether writing golden-era detective novels, thrillers, noir, or the recently repopularized domestic suspense novel, yet women in genre fiction tend to go out of print as soon as they stop writing new fiction unless they have established a wildly popular series. When classics of the genre have been brought back into print, most often, publishers have chosen to privilege works by men – until now, with Library of America’s Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 40s and 50sreleased last year.

 As International Women’s Month draws to a close, feast your eyes on an interview with Sarah Weinman, editor of the incredible Library of America collection, Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 40s and 50s. The two-volume set, also sold seperately by decade, contains eight novels, four per decade. The collection’s companion website includes thoughtful essays on each book included in the LoA collection from some of the premier figures of the detective novel world, including contributions from Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, and Sara Paretsky, among others.

“Criticism requires a somewhat different toolbox than does journalism, than certainly does fiction or reading, but all are informed by the other and inform each other. I sure would not have it any other way, except maybe making more time for fiction…”

Sarah Weinman is previously the editor of the anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wivesand has been instrumental in bringing long-neglected classic crime and suspense stories by women authors back into print and into the public eye. Thanks to Sarah for letting us send these questions along!


Molly Odintz: It must have been incredibly difficult to decide which volumes to include in this collection – how did you assemble the works that made it in?

Sarah Weinman: We certainly had many spirited meetings over selections, but the truth of the matter is, most of what constituted Women Crime Writers was a fairly speedy consensus. The LoA publisher and editor, Max Rudin & Geoffrey O’Brien, and I agreed quickly on In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes,The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, and Laura by Vera Caspary, so that was 3/4 of the 1940s volume. O’Brien suggested The Horizontal Man, which I knew about but hadn’t read, and once I did I realized it had to be in there. For the 1950s, we knew we had to have a Charlotte Armstrong and a Margaret Millar and they would *probably* be Mischief and Beast in View but we did talk about some other 1950s titles just in case — but then settled on those two. Dolores Hitchens was a strong choice early on but getting a hold of a copy of Fool’s Gold was not easy, and in the meantime we also really came close to including Dorothy Salisbury Davis (I really, really love A Gentle Murderer.) So weirdly enough, the Highsmith came late, and it took a couple of tries for me to really get into The Blunderer, but once I did, I think it was the final connective glue for the entire collection that really solidifies the whole group.

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MysteryPeople Celebrates WOMEN CRIME WRITERS: EIGHT SUSPENSE NOVELS OF THE 1940s & 50s: A LIBRARY OF AMERICA BOXED SET

For months, MysteryPeople has been anticipating the release of The Library of America’s Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50sedited by celebrated crime fiction expert Sarah Weinman. The collection comes out Tuesday, September 1st, and we’re excited to tell you a bit more about it. With works from both well-known and long-forgotten luminaries, including Margaret Millar, Patricia Highsmith, Vera Caspary and Dorothy B. Hughes, this two-volume set is a crash course in classic works by female suspense writers.

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MysteryPeople Review: CONCRETE ANGEL by Patricia Abbott

concrete angels

Many of us in the crime fiction community have been looking forward to a novel from Patricia Abbott. Her short work has appeared in anthologies and various short story sites for the past several years. It reads like a throwback to the domestic suspense writers of the fifties like Margaret Millar but with a modern psychology. She proves to be able to apply this in a long format with her debut novel, Concrete Angel.

Abbott kicks things off with the line, “When I was twelve, my mother shot a soda-pop salesman she’d known less than eight hours…”

The first four chapters take place during the mid-Seventies. Eve convinces her young daughter, Christine, to take the rap for the murder of a soda-pop salesman, and the two convince the law and others of their story. We then go back to Eve’s life, starting with her upbringing by two simple Christian parents, who were somewhat removed. Eve exhibits manic behavior but remains undiagnosed. She is bent on hoarding, and that soon leads to stealing. We see how she meets Christine’s father, a well-to-do printing magnate; we see their marriage, Christine’s birth, and the crime that leads to their divorce. After separating from her husband, Eve turns to new economic strategies, bringing men home for one-night stands and then cleaning out their wallets in the morning.

The book is told from Christine’s point of view. This includes events that occur before she is born, where Abbott shows her agility with voice. Christine describes events through a prism, relating what little she knows about her mother. It allows us to follow Eve, a character most of us would have trouble being around for ten minutes in real life. It also takes us into the relationship of the two, hinged on a daughter’s desire for attention from a mother who can rarely take the spotlight away from herself. A relationship that comes to a head when Eve has another child and becomes involved with a potentially dangerous man.

The writing always keeps us involved. We’re grabbed with the inciting incident, then given the history that lead to it and how it created our narrator. Christine is a believable character forged by unbelievable circumstances, confused by her situation and struggling to discover herself and find love, but smart enough to handle the most trying of circumstances. Like James M. Cain, Abbott shows how a crime at first bonds its perpetrators. then corrodes that union.

Concrete Angel is the most dynamic mother-daughter relationship since Mildred Pierce. It is told with a style and point of view rarely seen in a debut. Patricia Abbott confirms what many of us already knew about her talent. Here’s hoping many more will find out soon.

You can find copies of Concrete Angel on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

Women’s History Month: Recommendations of Women (and Men) in Crime Fiction, From Women in Crime Fiction

-Post by Molly

March is Women’s History Month, so at the beginning of the month, I reached out to many of my favorite female authors writing in crime fiction today for some thoughts and recommendations. Jamie Mason, Meg Gardiner, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Megan Abbott, and Lori Rader-Day all sent replies along, posted earlier this month (Mason’s response posted separately), and now we bring you some of their amazing recommendations. Not all the authors listed below are currently in print (although some soon return to print), and this is certainly not an exhaustive list of all the best crime writers today (a virtually impossible task). I’ve added quite a few of the following to my “to read” list. Enjoy!


monday's lieJamie Mason Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Josephine Tey
  • Dorothy Sayers
  • Daphne du Maurier
  • Patricia Highsmith
  • Agatha Christie

Second Wave Authors:

  • Ruth Rendell
  • PD James
  • Patricia Cornwell
  • Mary Higgins Clark
  • Sue Grafton
  • Kathy Reichs

Contemporary Authors:

  • Gillian Flynn
  • Tana French
  • Laura Lippman
  • Megan Abbott
  • Tess Gerritsen
  • Kate Atkinson
  • Lisa Lutz
  • Mo Hayder
  • Sara Paretsky

phantom instinct

Meg Gardiner Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Agatha Christie
  • Mary Shelley (as innovator of suspense fiction)
  • Patricia Highsmith

the unquiet deadAusma Zehanat Khan Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Ngaio Marsh
  • Dorothy L. Sayers (and the Jill Paton Walsh continuation of the Wimsey/Vane series)

Contemporary Authors:

  • Deborah Crombie
  • Imogen Robertson
  • Charles Finch
  • Charles Todd
  • Alan Bradley
  • Louise Penny
  • Susan Hill
  • Ariana Franklin
  • Anna Dean
  • Martha Grimes
  • Morag Joss
  • C. S. Harris
  • Stephanie Barron
  • Laurie R. King
  • Laura Joh Rowland
  • Elizabeth George
  • Peter May (in particular, The Blackhouse)
  • the late, great Reginald Hill

feverMegan Abbott Recommends…

The following books are soon to appear in the Library of America’s collection Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s, edited by Sarah Weinman

  • Dorothy B. Hughes’s In A Lonely Place
  • Vera Caspary’s Laura
  • Elizabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall
  • Margaret Millar’s Beast In View

the black hourLori Rader-Day Recommends…

Classic Authors:

  • Lois Duncan
  • Agatha Christie
  • Mary Higgins Clark

Contemporary Authors:

  • Tana French
  • Catriona McPherson
  • Denise Mina
  • Clare O’Donohue
  • Sara Gran
  • Gillian Flynn
  • Alan Bradley
  • James Ziskin

Women In Detective Fiction: A Wider Look


– Post by Molly

At the beginning of March, I contacted many of my favorite women in crime fiction. In honor of Women’s History Month, I asked for a few thoughts on the history of women in crime fiction, the future of crime fiction for female authors, or women’s representation in detective fiction. I also asked for some recommendations to pass on – look out for a thorough list of all the recommendations I got in the next week. I received wonderful responses from Lori Rader-Day, Megan Abbott, Meg Gardiner, Ausma Zehanat Khan, and Jamie Mason (read her response here), each highlighting the long history of women in crime fiction, the prominent place in the genre of many female authors today, and passing along some great recommendations.

Lori Rader-Day’s debut novel, The Black Hour, came out last year, and she’ll be releasing her next one, Little Pretty Things, in July. Megan Abbott’s most recent work is The Fever, and her books run the gamut from historical plots set in the golden age of noir to, more recently, plots focusing on the dangerous lives of adolescent girls. Meg Gardiner writes breakneck cyber-thrillers starring extremely capable women. Her latest is Phantom Instinct. Ausma Zehanat Khan recently published her first novel, The Unquiet Dead, to much acclaim.

There is a vast and diverse body of work written by women and shelved in the mystery section – almost an overwhelming amount, when attempting an analysis, especially one written for a blog. Lori Rader-Day, in her response, brought up how “one of the greatest things about crime fiction is how many brilliant women write it. There’s such a long tradition of fantastic women crime writers that I could read for the rest of my life (and that’s my plan) and never catch up.” Meg Gardiner responded, “Women have been the backbone and animating force in crime fiction since the beginning. From Agatha Christie to Patricia Highsmith to Gillian Flynn, women have defined, deepened, and blown up the genre.” Ausma Zehanat Khan, in her reply, mentioned that “most of the mysteries I read are written by women, and I also think women are very well represented as equals in detective fiction, although possibly not as much in higher ranks, which is likely more a reflection of the real world.” I think that we can all agree – women in crime fiction are here to stay.

Do women write crime fiction differently than men? Ausma Zehanat Khan responded, “Generally speaking, I think women write better detective novels with deeper characterizations and greater empathy, although I’m never really sure that you can generalize.” Women are certainly more likely than their male counterparts to have strong female protagonists, yet many male authors do write powerful and intriguing female protagonists. Lori Rader-Day, after writing “I look forward to anything new by Tana French, Catriona McPherson, Denise Mina, Clare O’Donohue, Sara Gran, and Gillian Flynn,” made sure to mention that “I read male authors, too, of course, and I can be enchanted by a male author who captures a female protagonist well, like Alan Bradley and James Ziskin.”Perhaps, in analyzing fiction, we’ve moved beyond wide generalizations based on gender, and this is, in my opinion, a very good thing.

While women may be well-represented in the ranks of detective novelists today,  not many classic female detective novelists (with certain exceptions, such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Parker and the great Patricia Highsmith) have stayed in circulation. The history of women in crime fiction is long, yet consistently undervalued. Many of those women who helped to originate, develop, and explode the genre of detective fiction are no longer in print. Those who have remained in print are generally from the British tradition of detective fiction, rather than American noir. Others who helped to originate the detective genre have found a home in classics, their history as genre fiction subordinated to their position as literature.

Meg Gardiner, when asked about the history of women in crime fiction, responded: “Hell, go back to the earliest days of great fiction—who wrote the original novel of tension, terror, and adventure? Mary Shelley. She gets credit for sparking science fiction and the horror genre. She’s also a founding force for suspense fiction!” I had contemplated Mary Shelley as an originator of horror, but had never thought of her before as paving the way for thrillers. I’m adding a belated New Year’s resolution to my already long list: I resolve to remember that the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction is a fine and porous line, and like any definition, fraught with ambiguity.

However, the prognosis for our ability to appreciate classic female detective novelists is good. Megan Abbott, in her discussion of the history of women detective novelists, brought to the fore “the Library of America’s upcoming volumes devoted to female crime writers from the golden age of noir. These volumes will be edited by Sarah Weinman and will finally push back into print some of the true masterpieces of the genre.” (The Library of America’s collection of Women Crime Writers comes out this September. Preorder now.)  Abbott points out in particular the inclusion of “Dorothy B. Hughes’s In A Lonely Place, Vera Caspary’s Laura, Elizabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall and Margaret Millar’s Beast In View. These were books that were wildly successful in their day, and had a huge impact on crime fiction to come, but have been unjustly forgotten. It’s a thrilling development.” That the Library of America has chosen to bring back into print these volumes is a statement of confidence in the canonical status of each writer included in the collection. People have always read the novels of women crime novelists writing at the time, but now is our chance to explore the lesser known classics that paved the way for women writing in crime fiction today.

While many of us fans of crime fiction by women did not grow up reading the classics of female noir, we did benefit from the splintering and diversification of the detective genre in the 1970s and 80s. Not only did the feminist movement spur a vast array of more widely politicized detective fiction by women – this time period also saw a diversification of voices in regards to ethnicity, class, and sexuality. Many of these authors have stayed in print and are still read widely. There is a strong continuum of forward momentum from this point onwards, and women are now near-equally represented in the genre.

The forward momentum of increasing diversity, however, has slowed in the intervening decades, and the representation of authors of color, of any gender, has fallen woefully behind. Ausma Zehanet Khan responded, “What I’d like to see more of in detective fiction is more diversity – more women and men of color in leading roles, and also as writers of detective fiction. I love learning about different perspectives on the world, on crime, and culture. For example, I loved Attica Locke’s ‘The Cutting Season.’ And although I’m starting to see secondary characters who are from diverse backgrounds, there is still a long way to go.”

As a female reader of detective fiction by both male and female writers, I believe the biggest gendered problem in detective fiction right now is not a lack of female authors, but an intensification of violence against women by some male and some female writers.  The detective genre is certainly a violent one, to its core, and gendered violence is a world-wide issue that cannot be simply subsumed to a socialist realism narrative – when I read a detective novel, I want a nutshell version of a realistic society, and that includes violent, gendered crimes. However, I have lost track of the number of detective novels I have read that not only hideously torture and murder women in uncommon-in-real-life ways, but deny those women any kind of voice, spending more time describing a dead body than a vibrant soul, lost to the world and yet deserving of remembrance. Women are not just corpses – they are characters.

The more women writing crime fiction, the less we will see female characters treated as disposable playthings and the more we will see women enacting their own stories and determining their own agency. There are also plenty of male authors out there bucking the trend – writing strong female characters and taking a responsible attitude towards the representation of violence against women. I’d say the future of women in crime fiction – as authors and as characters – is looking pretty darn good.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Paul Oliver, founder of Syndicate Books


Syndicate Books is a new independent publisher, dedicated to bringing back  the works of great and influential crime authors back in print. They started this fall by bringing out British author Ted Lewis’ hard as nails Jack Carter Trilogy. Jack Carter And The Mafia Pigeon, the third book in the trilogy, appears in the U.S. for the first time. We talked with Syndicate head and founder Paul Oliver about his endeavor, Ted Lewis, and legacy publishing.


MP: How did the idea for Syndicate books come about?

PO: It goes back to when I owned a bookstore in the Philadelphia area. We sold used books as well as new and in the process of handling all of those second hand books you encounter some interesting things. It could be an author you’ve never heard of and is utterly out of print, yet they have a run of blurbs from incredibly famous writers on the dust jacket. Or recognize that the translator is someone who worked on the most imminent books of the day. Little things like that. I’d take those books home and give them a read. Sometimes they were out of print because they weren’t very good or were particularly dated. But sometimes, not often, I’d read something really good that for whatever reason had slipped through the cracks. I wanted to publish those books.

2. Was there a particular reason Ted Lewis’ Get Carter Trilogy came out first for Syndicate?

PO: I learned about Ted Lewis from Max Allan Collins. At the time, in a former life, I was working on the reissues of Derek Raymond’s excellent Factory Novels and I thought they might be up Max’s alley. I wrote to him and somewhere in my email I described Derek Raymond as “The Godfather of British Noir.” All caps. Max was gracious enough to write back and explain to me that if I wanted to talk about “The Godfather of British Noir” then I needed to be talking about someone named Ted Lewis. Ted’s books were thoroughly out of print and very expensive, a hundred or so dollars for a mass market paperback, and knowing two of the three movies (yes, there is a third movie—titled “Hitman”—starring Bernie Casey and Pam Grier) I thought it was worth investigating. I was in the process of reading Lewis and scheming about starting Syndicate when I moved to Soho Press. It didn’t take long before Stuart Neville, one of our most acclaimed authors at Soho, shared that he was a huge admirer of Lewis. I knew I had to do it.

That’s the long answer. The short one is: GET CARTER. There’s not many cooler book/movie combos going.

MP: For those who only know Jack Carter from the Michael Caine film, what are they missing that are in the books?

PO: I think the Carter in the novels is a little more human. Caine’s Carter is colder, if not more ruthless, but in the end as much interested in preserving his own name as he is avenging his brother. I think Caine’s Jack Carter evolves in the final scenes where his fiery need for personal satisfaction burns off his own ego and leaves a genuine need to avenge his brother’s death. The Jack Carter of Lewis’ novel has sincere misgivings about how he was with his brother from the start of the story. Notice that I didn’t say he has misgivings about who he was or who he had become. Carter is a villain. He is a gangster who is proud of what he has achieved but at the same time very much in conflict over how he treated his brother in life. Some of the novel’s best writing occurs in an extended flashback of Jack and Frank as kids and the moment where they went down separate paths.

MP: What makes Ted Lewis’ books important to crime fiction?

PO: He is uncompromising. It’s the most remarkable trait among his many gifts. Lewis wrote incredible dialogue and described the English postwar society with remarkable nuance and, well, disdain. But his characters were all villains and that’s what is really neat to me. In his most notable novels they are not merely people on the wrong side of the law but thoroughly bad people. Jack Carter is a high level enforcer for a London-based organized crime family (read: Kray Brothers) and he is very good at his job. These are hard tales about bad people doing bad things to other people to maintain their standard of life. In a word: crime. A lot of writers want to do this but either come up short on experience or nerve. It takes a lot of both to write a character like Jack Carter or George Fowler (the protagonist of the forthcoming novel, GBH).

If you wanted to find a literary blood brother to Jack Carter you’d only find a handful. Maybe only one: James Ellroy’s Pete Bondurant from the USA Underworld Trilogy. As Max Allan Collins writes in the introduction to Jack Carter’s Law, “Carter makes Parker look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.” And it’s true. Donald Westlake’s Parker would despise Jack Carter and that’s why Ted Lewis created something remarkable and, for lack of a better word, true.

MP: Each Carter book has an intro by a filmmaker or author who admired the author. Do you plan to do that for all Syndicate Books?

PO: I do. When you’re making the argument that a writer that has fallen out of print or somehow slipped out of the crime fiction canon deserves to belong there, you need a spokesperson. It’s also a very sincere process. Sometimes blurbs or intros are about money or currying favor. Ted Lewis is dead. The people who wrote those intros and blurbs stand to gain very little by doing so and I think that makes the whole thing a little more interesting.

MP: I also love the covers, they draw a nice connotation to the period in which they were originally published without being anachronistic. Can you tell us about the artist and how you both approached the look?

PO: Thanks for that. I love them too. The artist is Katherine Grames and she was incredible to work with. Carter is a very stylish man. He’s kitted out in a mohair suit and monogrammed cufflinks, and very detailed about his gear. This is the height of the Mod 60s and Carter is kind of a Mod superman. Katherine loves fashion and loved the idea of designing these books. You’ve seen her design on some of Soho’s most prominent titles: Timothy Hallinan’s Junior Bender series, Kwei Quartey’s Murder at Cape Three Points, and one of my favorites, the redesigned Station Series by David Downing. Basically she’s great.

MP: It seems lately that legacy publishing has been reserved for online publishing, but there’s been some resurgence this year of bringing some of the authors back into physical print to be sold in stores as well. What makes you see the larger market for them?

PO: It’s not that ebooks are regressing, because they’re still an incredibly large portion of a publisher’s business. But two years ago on a subway car in New York you saw a lot of tablets and reading devices. These days you’re seeing books again. Books are a rugged technology that will be hard to replace and it will be even harder for electronic books to replace the alchemy that exists between the design of a book, its contents, and a reader.

MP: Is there anything you can tell us about future endeavors for Syndicate?

PO: I’m thrilled to say Syndicate has its second project. There’s still plenty to be done with the rest of Ted Lewis’ novels, including the publication of what many consider his final masterpiece, GBH, but I’ve also gone ahead and lined up our next project. And it is a coup. In 2015 Syndicate Books will publish the complete works of Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster and crime fiction legend, Margaret Millar. Millar was a two-time Edgar-winner (literally receiving the honor of “Grandmaster”) and a Los Angeles Times “Woman of the Year.” In life she was more famous than her fellow crime author husband, Kenneth Millar (aka Ross Macdonald) but for one reason or another her books have fallen out of print. She’s tremendous and like Lewis (or any great crime writer) she was interested in the bad wood beneath the veneer of society. It just so happens that she was writing about the so-called “Greatest Generation.”


Paul Oliver is founder and head of Syndicate Books. They have so far released all of Ted Lewis’ previously out-of-print Jack Carter Trilogy, and their upcoming releases include Lewis’ novel GBH and the complete works of Margeret Millar. You can find all volumes of the Carter Trilogy on  our shelves and via bookpeople.com.