Most great classic mystery writers were prolific—and many began their careers writing short stories for long-forgotten magazines. As a consequence, amongst the world-renowned titles of our most cherished crime authors, there are always a few overlooked nuggets for us to discover.
Here are some of the lesser-known books by our favorite classic mystery authors that you should definitely read—if you haven't already!
The Mystery of Cloomber
This 1888 mystery novella came out between the first two Sherlock Holmes novels. It’s the only mystery Conan Doyle wrote that doesn’t feature the famous consulting detective. The setting and plot, though, are certainly worthy of the pen of Dr. Watson—a gloomy country house on the Anglo-Scottish border occupied by the reclusive General Heatherstone, a former army officer who becomes strangely nervous whenever the month of October rolls around.
Our amateur sleuth, Scotsman John Fothergill West, is understandably intrigued. His interest becomes even more intense after the arrival in the area of some Indian Buddhist priests. Fans of Holmes will enjoy picking out the clues to what sometimes reads like a dry run for The Sign of the Four.
The Big Four
Hercule Poirot and his sidekick Colonel Hastings find themselves embroiled with a quartet of international supervillains (one of them called simply “The Destroyer”) who are hell-bent on world domination using the stolen plans for a death ray gun.
This 1927 Christie novel, which was published around the time of her mysterious disappearance, reads like a mash-up of a classic country house mystery and a Batman comic. It’s certainly not the sort of grand English house mystery we associate with the Queen of Crime, yet it’s great fun throughout and brings the friendship between Poirot and Hastings into sharp focus for the first time.
The Unexpected Guest
This novelization of Christie’s hit 1958 West End play was completed by Osborne in 1999 (he’d do the same with Christie’s Spider’s Web the following year). He does a remarkably effective job of the adaptation, too. Michael Starkwedder has a car accident on a foggy night. Looking for assistance he approaches an isolated house only to stumble on a woman with a gun standing over a dead body. The pair of strangers decide on a plot to fool the police only to find themselves wrapped up in more lies than they can handle.
A brilliant concept with an unexpected twist at the end, The Unexpected Guest works just as well on the page as it did on the stage.
The Documents in the Case
The only mystery novel Sayers wrote that doesn’t feature Lord Peter Wimsey. Her co-writer Eustace wrote eleven detective novels in collaboration with one of Ireland’s pioneering female authors L.T. Meade . After writing several books of his own, he later teamed up with Sayers for this 1930 mystery.
A doctor and scientist, Eustace supplied the structure and scientific and medical detail for The Documents in the Case, which features forensic analyst Sir James Lubbock and a murder involving poisonous mushrooms. Sayers wasn’t happy with the way she handled what she believed was Eustace’s brilliant plot twist, but readers will be intrigued by a Golden Age mystery told from multiple viewpoints.
The Knife Slipped
One of the biggest-selling US authors of the 20th century, Gardner is best known for his Perry Mason novels, but he also wrote—under the pseudonym A.A Fair—29 books featuring the hard-boiled PI pairing of Donald Lam and Bertha Cool. The first Cool and Lam mystery came out in 1939. The Knife Slipped was supposed to be the second.
Unfortunately, Gardner’s publishers weren’t too keen on the fact Bertha Cool smoked cigarettes, talked tough, and let slip the occasional curse word. Deeming her “unladylike” they shelved the novel and it didn’t see the light of day again until 2016. It’s a classic slab of ’40s noir featuring adultery, blackmail, and a good deal of whisky.
Killer in the Rain
The stories in this1964 collection of eight short mystery stories by the creator of Phillip Marlowe were written for the pulp magazines Black Mask and Dime Detective in the 1930s and 1940s. Chandler specifically asked that three of them never be reprinted and that the rest didn’t appear in collected form until after his death. The writer’s cause for concern wasn’t so much the writing, which is predictably stylish, but the fact that some of the plots, characters, and situations were cannibalized by him for later novels such as The Big Sleep and Farewell My Lovely.
For Chandler fans that all simply adds another layer of enjoyment to a fantastic collection of tales.
The Venice Train
The prolific Belgian writer is best known for his 77 mysteries featuring dogged French cop, Inspector Maigret, but he also wrote literally hundreds of other novels. This taut and brilliantly paced thriller from 1965 begins simply enough. Justin Calmar is traveling from Paris to Brussels.
When a stranger he encounters asks him to deliver a briefcase to an address along the route in Switzerland, he readily agrees. A simple family man, Calmar quickly finds himself embroiled in a world of intrigue, blackmail, and violence. Simenon ratchets up the tension superbly.
Clutch of Constables
Arguably the least well-known of the Queens of Crime, New Zealander Marsh wrote 33 novels featuring Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard and his wife, the celebrity portraitist, Agatha Troy. This undervalued mystery from 1968 reads like Death on the Nile set in Norfolk.
Troy and Alleyne find themselves on a cruise with art lovers through English East Anglia, the home of 19th-century landscape painter John Constable (hence the title). It soon becomes clear that one of the passengers is an international criminal known simply as “The Jampot,” but which one? Murder and forgery soon intertwine in a complex plot that is rich in psychological details and full of unexpected twists.
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