Sunday, January 08, 2023

Nine top literary classics for the contemporary crime reader

Rebecca Kelley is an author and graphic designer whose first novel, Broken Homes and Gardens, was published in 2015.

Her second novel, No One Knows Us Here, is out this month from Lake Union Publishing.

"There is a point in my novel No One Knows Us Here when my heroine does a very, very bad thing, Kelley writes. "She doesn’t have to do the bad thing—it’s not one of those 'steal a loaf of bread to feed her starving family' situations. She has other options and chooses to go down the dark path anyway."

At CrimeReads Kelley tagged nine literary classics that "borrow elements from the crime writer’s toolkit: complex criminals, layered villains, criminal investigations, court cases, and even a few ghosts and violent psychopaths." One title on the list:
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)

Now considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance and taught in schools across the country, Their Eyes Were Watching God was not a huge success at publication, disparaged by other Harlem Renaissance authors such as Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, who called it a “blight of calculated burlesque.” (RUDE!) In it, 40-something Janie Crawford recounts her life to her friend, taking her through her early sexual experiences and three tumultuous marriages. It’s with her last husband, Tea Cake, a drifter, that she finds the greatest happiness, though it ends in tragedy, with Janie on trial for his murder. After years in obscurity, Their Eyes Were Watching God was rediscovered in the 1970s, thanks in part to an essay Alice Walker wrote for Ms. Magazine called “Looking for Zora,” where she chided Hurston’s earlier critics for “throwing away a genius.”
Read about another entry on the list.

Their Eyes Were Watching God also appears among Henry Adam Svec's seven novels by or about folk musicians, Micheline Aharonian Marcom's eight epic quest stories, Michael Zapata's ten books that were almost lost to history, Yann Martel's five favorite books, and Benjamin Obler's top ten fictional coffee scenes in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue