Books To Die For

Well, not literally books to die for, but in literary terms books that others might have killed to have written.

In one of those acts of serendipity that happen from time to time, having just discovered Laura Wilson as an author I then came across her as a critic talking about crime fiction on a recent Guardian Books Podcast.  If you haven’t yet discovered these then you have a treat in store.  At least once a week The Guardian put out a discussion, normally lasting for about forty-five minutes, on some aspect of the literary world.  They pull in all sorts of interesting, often highly distinguished, speakers and frequent open up areas of both fiction and non- fiction that I would never have otherwise thought to explore.  I download them for my weekly drive to Stratford and often end up sitting in the car park when I arrive trying to avoid the attendant’s eye as I catch the last few minutes of a fascinating debate.

One of the topics of conversation in this particular episode centred around crime writers of the past and Wilson briefly mention a recent publication edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke as a wonderful resource, referencing novels that had ill-deservedly been forgotten.  So, of course, when I got home the first thing I did was to look it up on Amazon and the second thing I did was to buy it.

The premise behind the book is a simple one.  The editors have asked over a hundred current writers of crime fiction to choose their favourite crime novel and write about it; to choose just one book that they would fight to see in any list of the canonical works of the genre.  These they have then arranged chronologically starting with a discussion by J Wallis Martin of the Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin Stories and ending with Anne Perry’s advocacy of The Perk by Mark Gimenez.  For anyone such as myself who enjoys crime fiction this is a win-win-win situation.  I love reading about books – win number one.  Some of the books being discussed, such as The Perk, are new to me – win number two.  Win number three comes about because some of the contributors, like J Wallis Martin, are authors whose works I’ve not previously encountered.  One way and another there are enough suggestions here to keep me reading for the next year or so.

Something that I have found fascinating browsing through the table of content is noting which books my favourite authors have chosen.  Andrew Taylor, for example, has written about Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone.  How I wish I’d had that available the year our Summer School coupled the Victorian classic with The American Boy, Taylor’s own novel based around the early life of Edgar Allan Poe.  Sara Paretsky, who has two of her own works celebrated by other writers, has chosen Dickens’ masterpiece, Bleak House.  Kathy Reichs, no stranger to blood and gore herself, opts for Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs, while both Louise Penny and Margaret Maron choose works by Josephine Tey, the author who apparently amassed the greatest number of advocates.

With the long dark nights drawing in a collection such as this is a priceless discovery.  Of course, me being me, I’m promising myself that I will read every book recommended not to mention a selection of works by the authors doing the recommending.  I’ll never keep to it.  But, with luck I will discover some gems along the way and open up areas of the genre that I’ve perhaps ignored for too long.  I might also decide which book I would add to the list.  What, I wonder, would your selection be?


15 thoughts on “Books To Die For

  1. Oh no, another book that I’d love to read – and a long one too. But I see from some of the Amazon reviews that some of the essays contain spoilers, so for the time being this book is going on my wishlist – but I suspect I’ll give in soon. Meanwhile, I’m about to start the last of Andrew Taylor’s Roth trilogy. The second was nowhere nearly as traumatic as the first, by the way.

    I didn’t know about The Guardian podcasts – thanks for the information.

    1. Where they are talking about a book I don’t know I’m going to try and read it first, Margaret, which is what is going to make this collection such a long term project for me. Thanks for the tip about the second Roth novel. I might now find the courage to read it.

  2. Ooh I love a book that leads me on to lots of others! I hope you’ll say more about new authors that you are tempted to try. And I didn’t know about the podcasts either. I will have to look them up!

    1. Litlove, I’m sure you’ll love the podcasts. They are always so much more than just book reviews. They tackle the real issues that authors are exploring. I always come away with new ideas buzzing round my head.

  3. What a fun sounding book! I love books in which authors write about a favorite book because if I have read the book they are writing about I always get new insight and if I haven’t read the book it goes on my TBR list right away. So while I love these kinds of books I am also glad they don’t get written so very often otherwise my TBR list would be even longer than it already is.

    1. Oh do not talk about the dreaded TBR pile. I’ve promised myself that I will only move onto a new essay when I’ve read the previous work discussed and anything by the author that attracts me. If I put any more books on the nightstand it will go through the floor.

  4. I’m not sure why, but I’m not normally a fan of crime writing. I’ll look forward to reading your reviews – you might just persuade me!

    If I had to make a selection it would be Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.

    1. I thought that had to have been chosen by someone, Karen, but I’ve just checked and it isn’t there. I think it’s a great choice.

  5. What an interesting book! Just wondering … is the name Michael Connelly mentioned at all? He’s my favorite crime writer. I like the character he’d created, detective Harry Bosch (name based on the 16 C. fantasy artist Hieronymus Bosch) and have read all his Bosch novels. I’ve read all of Thomas Harris’s books Hannibal books too. Hannibal is one classy cannibal. I must go look for this fascinating book, Thanks for recommending, Alex!

    1. Yes, Arti, John Connolly selected his book, ‘The Black Echo’, while Connelly himself chooses Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Little Sister’. I haven’t read any of Connelly’s novels so when I reach that section of this book I’m going to have a whole new series to enjoy. Who am I kidding? It isn’t going to take me a year or two to work my way through all these essays, it’s going to be more like a decade or two.

  6. Am heading right away to the Guardian podcasts. I do love podcasts – at the moment I’m listening to Inspector Maigret (there are about 40 of them which gives me great opportunity to wallow in the atmosphere of Paris). Some podcasts are of very iffy quality though – Warwick University discussions sounded interesting but the sound level was too poor to endure.

    1. Well, you won’t have any problems with the standard of the Guardians podcasts but you are so right about the ones from Warwick. Have you heard the one where the phone goes off in the middle and it turns out to be one that has been left behind from the previous class? The lecturer has to answer it only then to have someone entirely different turn up to look for it about ten minutes later. What I really like about that one is the point ten minutes after that when someone turns up to do a room audit. It is so exactly what happens second week of term in every University in the land, but if you made it up no one would believe you.

      1. I just pick whatever I’m interested in, which is good. This is an exhaustive list and I don’t think I’ll read every single one of them. But some are quite interesting. Thanks for the heads-up to this!

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