Best Vintage Mystery Reprint of 2021, part one

As the ubiquitous commercialization of Christmas invades our lives let us once again turn to the end of the year tradition begun by our dear friend Kate Jackson who blogs at Cross Examining Crime and look at candidates for Best Vintage Mystery Reprint of the Year.  2021 offered up a cornucopia of reprint editions of crime fiction and covered all aspects of the genre from traditional detective novels to clever thrillers to tension filled novels of suspense.  There were over 100 books on the list Kate sent us and I found over 50 more on my own, not the least of which was the surprise addition from Penguin of some long out-of-print books by Mabel Seeley, one time bestselling writer in the stable of Doubleday's Crime Club back in the heyday of that seminal publisher.  It was too late for me to nominate The Listening House (1938), her pioneering mystery novel heavily influenced by Rinehart, Eberhart and the rest of the HIBK school,  because I had already chosen my nominees.  But I think I found two excellent books despite not knowing of the Seeley's reprints.

Unlike most of the others who participate in the is end of the year ritual among the vintage mysteyr bloggers I adhere to a personal standard in choosing these "Best of the Year" reprint candidates. For those who missed this extravaganza in past years (or are too lazy to look it up from this blog's archives) I'll give you my own two most important rules for what I feel merit a wise choice of a vintage reprint:

  1. A truly forgotten author, long out of print
  2. Writing and plotting that contributes substantially to the genre

Enough of the preamble.  Here's Nominee #1 from your opinionated maven at Pretty Sinister Books...


Sing Me A Murder by Helen Nielsen

  • Nielsen is an underappreciated and neglected writer over shadowed by her contemporaries Margaret Millar, Charlotte Armstrong and Ursula Curtiss who tend to get all the accolades when the talk turns to mid 20th century women mystery writers.
  •  Her crime fiction uses the conventions of traditional detective fiction but often subvert them with innovative plotting, unusual characters, and contemporary insights for fans of history and sociology. Sing Me A Murder incorporates popular music into the storyline (a key character is a singer and recording artist). We also get some intriguing background on 1950s architecture, automobiles and car maintenance!  All of it help in solving the various mysteries in the novel.
  • Nielsen's characters are vibrantly depicted.  Often it is the supporting players in the story who are the most attractive and get some of the best scenes.  I remember a nosy neighbor who stole the show, so to speak, in her scenes. Also a gas station attendant has a couple of great monologues. This rings true to me. That the people we take for granted, the background players in our lives, are often those who consciously or not have the greatest influence on us.
  • She's a damn fine writer with an excellent command of English and sometimes startling uses of imagery and metaphor.
  • Stark House Press has reprinted Sing Me a Murder in a twofer bound with Nielsen's equally innovative and gripping crime novel False Witness.  So you get two Nielsen books for the price of one if you buy the reprint of Sing Me a Murder. (Am I cheating?  Don't care!) 

You can read the full review of Sing Me A Murder back in the archives of 2016 posts by clicking here.  The Stark House Press reprint has been on sale since November of this year.  Highly recommended!  And make sure you read False Witness too!  The review for that second book can be found here

Tune in next week for my male writer nominee, a true classic and a giant of a writer in Golden Age of Detective Fiction.


This post is by J. F. Norris and appears in its original form at Pretty Sinister Books. Please visit Pretty Sinister Books for more insightful and bantering commentary on forgotten but worthwhile books and movies. All written content is © 2011-2021 by John Norris.
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Best Vintage Mystery Reprint of 2021, part one