Don’t Let it End*

One Book AuthorsEvery month, a lot of terrific new crime fiction is released – enough to keep TBR piles and lists from ever actually shrinking. Erm – please tell me I’m not the only one with that problem. Please??  And there are authors such as Michael Connelly and Katherine Howell, who consistently keep their series going with high-quality stories. Interestingly enough though, there are also authors who write one or a few books and then stop. Of course there are a lot of reasons for this. Authors go on to different things, or have to deal with poor health, or something else happens. You wish they’d written more perhaps because that one (or those two) novels were well-done. There are a lot of them out there, and of course, they are not just crime fiction authors, but this is a crime fiction blog, so….

One of the most famous examples of a one-novel author is Harper Lee, whose To Kill a Mockingbird is, in my opinion anyway, a crime novel as much as it is anything else. Among other plot threads, Mayella Ewell claims that she was raped by Tom Robinson. Her father supports her and Robinson is arrested and nearly lynched. Complicating matters is the fact that this is Maycomb, Alabama, at a time when racism was a way of life. Mayella Ewell is White, and Tom Robinson is Black, which means he’s not likely to get a fair trial. Well-known lawyer Atticus Finch takes Robinson’s case, determined to see that he does get a fair hearing, and as the town prepares for the trial and deals with its aftermath, we see the effect that even alleged crime can have on a small community. There are of course a lot of other themes in this novel; whole university courses are devoted to it. And it won many literary prizes. And every year, the University of Alabama School of Law and the American Bar Association (ABA) award the Harper Lee Prize For Best Legal Fiction. This novel has had a real impact on modern fiction, to say the least. But it’s Lee’s only novel.

Also from the American South was James Ross. He’s said to be ‘the man who invented Southern noir.’ Written in 1940, Ross’ They Don’t Dance Much is the story of down-and-out farmer Jack Macdonald, who’s just lost his property due to non-payment of taxes. Macdonald’s friend Smuts Milligan owns a local store, but wants to expand it into a roadhouse and dance hall. Macdonald begins working for his friend and the two of them start to develop Smuts’ plans. When the business doesn’t go as well as they’d hoped, Smuts becomes desperate for money and as any crime fiction fan can tell you, financial desperation leads to all sorts of things. In this novel, it leads to brutal murder. Not a novel for the faint of heart, but it established Southern Gothic noir. And it was Ross’ only novel.

British author Robert Pollock didn’t write a lot of novels either. If someone else knows his work better than I do, please correct me. But it seems he only wrote four novels (although he wrote some non-fiction too). One of those novels is Loophole or, How to Rob a Bank. It’s the story of professional thief Mike Daniels and his team, who put together a plan to rob London’s City Savings Deposit Bank. They enlist the help of laid-off architect Stephen Booker, and before long, all of the details are worked out. On the day of the planned robbery, everything is ready. But no-one has planned for the sudden storm that blows up during the heist. I’ll confess this is the only one of Pollock’s books that I’ve read. Still, I don’t think this is part of a series. I sort of wish it was though, or at least that Pollock had continued writing caper/crime novels.

Mary Semple Scott also wrote only one crime novel, 1940’s Crime Hound. St. Louis investigator Herbert Crosby, who works for the DA’s office, decides to take a lakeside holiday. But he soon gets drawn into murder when a shady realtor he had an appointment with is murdered. When his own gun is stolen and later used for two other murders, it’s clear that Crosby is being set up. If he’s going to avoid going to jail himself (something the local sheriff would like only too well), Crosby is going to have to find out who’s framed him. It would have been interesting to see what Scott could have done with Crosby’s ‘regular guy’ character in a series.

There’s also David Markson, who wrote only two crime fiction novels featuring his New York PI sleuth Harry Fannin. In Epitaph For a Tramp, Fannin helps solve the murder of his ex-wife, whose body is found on his doorstep. And in Epitaph for a Dead Beat, Fannin investigates three murders that show just how deadly the literary world can be. Markson of course went on to become famous for his postmodern literary works, but the two Fannin novels are, so far as I know (so correct me if you know better) the only crime novels he wrote. For pulp crime fiction fans, they’re part of the canon.

And then of course there are more recently-published authors who’ve only done one or two novels, but who you’d love to see do more. Or at least do them more quickly. For instance, Adrian Hyland has written two novels (Diamond Dove/Moonlight Downs and Gunshot Road) featuring Aboriginal Community police officer (ACPO) Emily Tempest. There’s yet to be a third, although I hope that will change soon. Very soon.

These are just a few examples of authors who’ve only done one or two novels, but a lot of people wish wrote more. Which one-novel (or a few novels) authors do you wish wrote more?



*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Styx.


Filed under Adrian Hyland, David Markson, Harper Lee, James Ross, Mary Semple Scott, Robert Pollock

58 responses to “Don’t Let it End*

  1. I loved the two novels by Troy Cook: “47 Rules of Highly Effective Bank Robbers” and “The One Minute Assassin.” I’m not sure what he’s doing these days, but it might have something to do with making a living because he’s a pretty young guy. I hope he’s writing in his spare time though. He has a great voice.

  2. I love Marianne Macdonald’s Dido Hoare series but don’t see any evidence of her still writing. She did make it to book 8. I also would like to see more by Dean James.

    • AGC – I’d heard of that series, but hadn’t dipped into it (yet). I have to say thought the idea of an antiquarian sleuth is really appealing. Folks, check out AGC’s post on the Dido Hoare serires right here.

  3. Sarah Dunant is a best selling author of novels set in the Italian Renaissance, but in the 1990s, she wrote three contemporary thrillers featuring PI Hannah Wolfe, the first of which, Birth Marks, is on my TBR pile.

    And no, you’re not the only one with a permanently regenerating TBR pile, Margot!

    • Angela – It’s good to know it’s not just me with that TBR problem. And thanks for mentioning the Hannah Wolfe novels. I’ve not tried them myself, but I’ve heard good things about Dunant’s work. Interesting she went in that direction for a bit.

  4. I guess Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is the other example of a really big one and only, I always think of that and Harper Lee together – southern fiction? In detective fiction, there was someone called Robert Player who wrote a wonderful book called The Ingenious Mr Stone, and a couple of others, but I’ve never really heard any more about him. I’d love to find someone else who’d read him! I might get one of his books down off the shelf soon….

    • Moira – Interesting you make that comparison (Southern fiction) between Mitchell’s and Lee’s works. It’s certainly an apt one. I have to say I’ve not read The Ingenious Mr. Stone. I’d love to know your thoughts about his work.

  5. Some wonderful examples there Margot (and I am definitely going to try and get a copy of the Ross) – there are so many authors that maybe only take a few stabs at a genre and move on to another but then there are those who write no more – I’m thinking of Helen Eustis and Cameron MacCabe especially as true innovators who pretty much left writing very quickly. Dozens more of course but so few who made such valid contributions to the genre – great post Margot, thanks.

    • Sergio – Thank you – glad you enjoyed the post. And it is interesting isn’t it that some authors, even real innovators such Eustis and McCabe, don’t stick with writing. Of course, things happen in people’s lives, and there are any number of reasons one might stop writing. But even with one book, those folks can leave their marks. One wonders what would have happened had they continued to write.

  6. One author – virtually unknown, alas! – who should have written more is Hake Talbot. He only wrote two novels, along with a play and a few short stories. The first novel, “The Hangman’s Handyman” is, I’m told, not very good – I’ve never read it. The second, :”Rim of the Pit,” is one of the most brilliant impossible crime stories ever written. Talbot manages to build an eerie and horrifying atmosphere, and the reader will be convinced that there has to be an evil, supernatural force at work. But that’s not what’s really happening… It’s a marvelous book, a fairly-clued, wonderfully nightmarish mystery, and I do wish he had written more.

    And, please, let’s not talk about TBR piles…especially since you have all too frequently given me books to add to my list… 😉

    • Les – As far as TBR piles goes, turnabout is fair play, I say… ;-). And as to Talbot’s work, I think you’ve mentioned Rim of the Pit before, and it does sound awfully intriguing. And my proverbial hat is always off to authors who can really write good ‘impossible mysteries’ that don’t stretch credibility too far. It is a pity Talbot isn’t better known, and didn’t write more. Wonder which direction his work would’ve taken??

  7. kathy d.

    I would have loved more books like Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin. Also, more about Gwenni Morgan, in 1950s Wales, by Mari Strachan.
    Also, since there is a reminder about Sarah Dunant’s works, fans of historical crime fiction should read her book, The Birth of Venus, about a young girl in Florence in the late 1400s, at a time of conflict between reason, learning and literature versus book-burning and religious zealots.
    The beginning is enough to pull anyone in: A nun died in 1528. She has lived in seclusion. However, her torso is covered by a long snake tattoo.
    Also, the Nina Borg series set in Denmark, by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis is supposed to end after the third book, Death of a Nightingale. I wish it would continue.
    And although we’re not talking about long series, I still wish that Andrea Camilleri would live until 110 and write about 20 more books about Salvo Montalbano, Sicilian police detective extraordinaire.

    • Kathy – I’m also hoping for more from Tom Franklin and Mari Strachan. Very different writers, but both wrote excellent novels. And I’ve heard to that the Nina Borg series is only three novels long. I like the books very much myself and wish the series would continue.
      Thanks too for reminding us about The Birth of Venus. I always like it when there’s an effective balance in historical novels between that sense of history and the story itself. And yes, Salvo Montalbano is a great character and I do love that series.

  8. Margot: Your post was timely as I have recently finished the second and last Matteesie Kitologitak mystery set in Canada’s Northwest Territories and written by Scott Young. Matteesie was a unique character both charming and bright.

    In my efforts to assemble Saskatchewan mysteries I read single mysteries by 5 authors. I suspect each did not become series as each was a pretty good book but I doubt sold well enough to have a publisher commit to a series.

    • Bill – I’m glad you mention Scott Young’s novels. They’re both on my TBR and from everything I know about them, it would have been terrific if that series had continued.
      And I think you’re right about the sales thing. Some publishers really do want to see how a single book will do before they commit to any sort of series.

  9. Col

    Irish author Seamus Smyth had a fantastic book out – Quinn. I think it was followed by one other but he seemed to disappear off the radar.
    I also read a fantastic book by Stephen Bochco – Death by Hollywood. I checked periodically for years afterwards to see if there was anything else, but sadly not.

    • Col – Those are exactly the kind of thing I had in mind when I wrote this post. Of course Bochco has a career as a TV producer but still, it would be interesting to see what he’d have done with a writing career. I know less about Smyth, but when writers do disappear like that, I always wonder what’s happened.

      • Col

        I knew Bochco had a “Hollywood” career, but would have loved to see him do more books. There were a few authors I followed that I think suffered a mid-list-author crunch when the publisher’s contracted their operations, concentrating more on big-hitters. Maybe there will be a renaissance with e-books and a trend to self-publishing and they will return. I think it is probably more of a vocation or calling than a paying career though these days, so maybe not.

        • Col

          Did Salinger write any more novels after Catcher? I wouldn’t necessarily want to have read them mind you, one was more than enough!

        • Col- Salinger did write other things after Catcher. Franny and Zooey, for instance, came after that. But his real acclaim was for Catcher, I think.

        • Col – Writing is definitely a calling. Only a few folks actually earn a good living from it. I’ll be interested too to see what happens as ebooks make more people’s novels available.

  10. I always wished Harper Lee would write more books. Don’t think it’s going to happen! Unless she has a stash of unpublished novels in her house…:) Would be lovely!

  11. Col mentioned J.D. Salinger who, I think, wrote one or two other novels that I don’t recall. He wrote many short stories, though. Ayn Rand comes to mind too. As does Joseph Heller who’ll always be remembered for CATCH-22. Or Robert M. Pirsig and his ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE that I understood only after I read it the second time when I was much older. Then there is Richard Bach whose JONATHAN LIVINGSTONE SEAGULL I just love. Malcolm Bradbury’s campus novel THE HISTORY MAN was a pathbreaker for me and with the exception of RATES OF EXCHANGE I’ve never read anything else by this terrific writer. The thing is, in spite of writing a whole lot of them, non-series authors are often remembered for just one or two books even though they may have written better ones.

    • Prashant – You’ve given some great examples of authors who wrote only one book, or who were famous for only one. It’s interesting isn’t it how an author may write several collections of stories or poems, or several novels, but only one really strikes readers. And as you say, sometimes it’s not even the author’s best work.

  12. Nothing worse than getting hooked on a writer only to find they stop writing, lose their publishing or pass away. The feeling of loss is just dreadful – on so many levels.

  13. I agree about Margaret Michell. And to tell you the truth I always wish there were more Agatha Christie novels. And the TBR pile just keeps increasing every time I visit a blog by a book-lover… there are so many genres to explore and books to read which maybe I would never pick up on my own, but reading an impassioned recommendation always gives you pause. 🙂

  14. kathy d.

    And although this series was four books long and not just one, it still deserves to be praised, as it was so popular, books would have been read. And that’s Ariana Franklin/Diana Norman’s Adelia Aguilar books set in 12th-century England.
    The author was planning more books, but she passed away. Hear that her daughter is writing a fifth book.
    She wrote other novels but they’re hard to come by.

    • Kathy – Oh, that’s quite true. That series is, in my opinion, excellent, and of course Franklin’s death was a great loss. Shame it was only a four-book series. I have to decide how I feel about her daughter taking up the pen, so to speak. I’m usually not much of a one for that kind of thing, but sometimes it can work.

  15. One author I love, but who died before he could write more, was Timothy Holme, who wrote five books featuring the Neapolitan detective Achille Peroni. Holme lived in Italy, but didn’t start writing detective fiction until late in life, in the 1980s. “The Assisi Murders” is my favourite, but they’re all good, and I wish there had been more.

    And yes, the TBR problem is a common one, made worse by the I’m Going To Read This Instead pile!

    • CountryCrime – Oh, that’s a new one, but I like it! The I’m Going to Read This Instead pile! I’ve got one of those too. And thanks for mentioning Holme’s work. It sounds like a series I would like; I must check it out.

  16. My contribution: A Weekend at Blenheim by J.P. Morrissey. I loved this book. But the author never published anymore books that I can find and I cannot find anything more about him. So if anyone knows anything about him, I would love to hear it.

    • Tracy – Oh, so would I. I always wonder what happened when an author writes one book that I’ve loved and not written another. I did a (very) brief check and didn’t find that Morrissey had written any other novels, either. If anyone knows better, I’d like to know too.

  17. Hi Margot – My choice is Cain’s Wife (aka Cain’s Woman), the one novel by Chicago painter and writer O.G. Benson. It’s in the noirish tradition, conventional in its way, but handled very well by Benson.

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