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Eric Beetner's Top 5 Favorite Classic Crime Authors

28 October 2022

Playing Favorites is an interview series where creative people pick a topic and tell us their five favorite things about it. Opinions expressed in this series are those of the interviewees and do not reflect the opinions of S.W. Lauden or The Big Takeover.

Eric Beetner has led a creative life as a musician, crime author, and TV/film editor. He’s the author of more than two dozen crime novels including The Devil Doesn’t Want Me, Rumrunners and All The Way Down. His action-packed new novel, There and Back (Rough Edges Press, 2022), revolves around a wilderness retreat gone wrong. Beetner has been nominated for many major crime fiction awards and Lit Reactor called him “The 21st Century’s answer to Jim Thompson.” Prior to publishing crime fiction, Beetner was the guitarist/vocalist for LA-based post-punk band Go! Dog! Go! in the ’90s. (Full disclosure: Beetner contributed an essay about D.C. punk drummers to the collection I edited, Forbidden Beat; and we co-hosted the Writer Types podcast…but don’t hold any of that against him!). I asked Beetner to share his favorite classic crime authors.

Eric Beetner’s Top 5 Favorite Classic Crime Authors

5. William McGivern (1922 – 1982)

Nobody wrote crooked cops like McGivern. As a result he got some of the best Film Noir adaptations of his work with The Big Heat, Odds Against Tomorrow, Shield For Murder and more. The Darkest Hour got adapted as Hell On Frisco Bay, but the novel is so much better and a great intro to his work.

4. Gil Brewer (1922 – 1983)

Brewer tried a few times to write standard detective stories, but always fell back into standalone Noir novels about sad suckers reaching for the brass ring and very often falling short. (Hmm, sounds familiar to my own career). His style is simple and direct, no fat. Classics like The Red Scarf, Flight To Darkness and The Three Way Split are dark as night and so much fun. His noir short stories are all killer, no filler too.

3. Lionel White (1905 – 1985)

Another writer I came to through Film Noir after seeing the brilliant adaptation of his novel Clean Break into The Killing (1956). Director Stanley Kubrick kept White’s fractured storyline and it works brilliantly. Every new Lionel White novel I dig up I end up loving. Find Me A Killer I think is absolute must reading for crime fiction fans, but you can’t go wrong with The Money Trap, A Grave Undertaking, Invitation To Violence or A Death At Sea.

2. James Hadley Chase (1906 – 1985)

I slept on Chase for too long because he is British and his debut breakout novel is titled No Orchids For Miss Blandish, which I assumed (wrongly) was some drawing room mystery with frequent tea breaks. Instead, I found a writer as hard boded as a ten-minute egg. Chase apes the American style and does it so well I never would have guessed he didn’t grow up on the streets of some sprawling American city. And he made up for the misleadingly cozy title of Blandish with maybe my all time favorite book title: Kiss My Fist!

1. Charles Williams (1909 – 1975)

Williams is too good a stylist to be dismissed as a pulp writer, too good a plotter to be ignored as merely a noir writer and yet he’s still largely forgotten today. Hell Hath No Fury (a.k.a The Hot Spot) is, to me, essential crime reading. He twists his characters to their breaking point, but usually their downfall is their own damn fault. When he embraced his passion for sailing, he ended up creating his own genre of nautical noir with Dead Calm, Scorpion Reef, The Sailcloth Shroud and Aground. Charles Williams is due for his rediscovery.

Previously on Playing Favorites
James Spooner’s Top 5 Favorite Black Female-/Non-Binary Fronted Punk Bands
Jim Ruland’s Top 5 Favorite Punk Books
Jan Radder’s Top 5 Favorite Horror Movies