John Steinbeck Wrote a Murder Mystery About a Werewolf, But His Estate Won’t Publish It

Gavin Jones, a professor at Stanford, is advocating for the book's release

Author John Steinbeck smoking at his house in Sag Harbor, Long Island in 1962
Steinbeck at his house on Long Island, probably pondering whether or not to release "Murder at Full Moon."
Bettmann / Getty

Murder at Full Moon is a pulpy mystery novel about a reporter and a wannabe sheriff investigating killings in the fictional town of Cone City. Spoiler: They believe the killer is a werewolf. The bigger spoiler, however, is that the author is not Peter Pym, the pseudonym under which it was written, but the legendary John Steinbeck.

As The New York Times detailed this week, Steinbeck’s forgotten novel, written almost a decade before The Grapes of Wrath, is currently enveloped in a feud between the author’s estate and a Stanford professor. The scholar, Gavin Jones, thinks the story should be published for the public to read; the estate wants to keep it out of the canon. 

“Steinbeck wrote Murder at Full Moon under a pseudonym, and once he became an established author, he did not choose to seek publication of this work,” a representative of McIntosh & Otis, the late author’s literary agency, wrote in an email. “There are several other works written by Steinbeck that have been posthumously published, with his directions and the careful consideration of the Estate. As longtime agents for Steinbeck and the Estate, we do not exploit works that the author did not wish to be published.”

The word “exploit” is charged in this day and age, as posthumously released works by similarly vaunted authors such as Harper Lee as well as other artists like Prince have been mired in controversy while also reaping huge profits. According to Jones — whose new book on the author, Reclaiming John Steinbeck, is out this summer — the potential publication doesn’t go against Steinbeck’s wishes. 

“He didn’t destroy Murder at Full Moon,” Jones said, noting that Steinbeck did dispose of other unpublished works.

From what the Times describes of the book, which includes illustrations by Steinbeck himself, this is unlike anything else the author ever produced. It involves a reporter who takes a job in a new town and begins investigating local killings with “an eccentric candidate for sheriff,” and together they “apply a theory of crime detection built on reading bad murder mysteries.”

It was written when Steinbeck was just 28-years-old, broke and simply trying to make a living off his writing, according to biographer William Souder.

Thankfully, it was The Grapes of Wrath, not Murder at Full Moon, that became a hit. But we’ve read the Pulitzer Prize winner a number of times already, so we wouldn’t mind hitting the beach this summer with a little werewolf fare instead. 

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