To celebrate the release of The Fat Detective, The Fat Detective in Love and The Fat Detective Disappears, I have put together a list of five of my favourite crime books. The editions in these photos are all my own personal copies.
Double Indemnity by James M. Cain (1943)
In both The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity a couple set out on a murderous plot in which Cain masterfully ratchets up the suspense. His style is sparse and stripped down, a trademark of hardboiled American fiction. James M. Cain’s novels became the source material for three quintessential film noirs: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Mildred Pierce (1945) and Double Indemnity (1944). Essential reading.
Nightwebs by Cornell Woolrich (1935-1947)
In the 1920s and 30s there was a boom of pulp fiction magazines that filled the newsstalls across America and these cheap pages needed to be filled. Cornell Woolrich was incredibly prolific, writing over 250 short stories and novels in his lifetime. Nightwebs collects together a collection of his short stories and he proves to be a master of the paranoid protagonist, innocent everymen who stumble across sinister goings on and are thrown into the role of amateur detective. His stories also became the basis for a variety of crime movies from the 1940s onwards, the most famous of which was Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window in 1954.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)
My library contains a treasured boxset that contains all the Sherlock Holmes volumes and while I love the novels A Study in Scarlett, The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles, I’d perhaps select this volume of short stories as the essential read. It contains such classics as ‘The Red-Headed League’, ‘The Man With the Twisted Lip’ and ‘The Engineer’s Thumb’, proving Conan-Doyle to be a master of ingenuous literary puzzles. And there’s nothing like spending time with Holmes and Watson as they run around Victorian London.
The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (1987)
New York novelist Paul Auster wrote a trilogy of short novels that used the detective genre as a vehicle in which to explore themes of fate, chance and literature itself. The result is a dazzling and puzzling trio of stories that are full of suspense, intrigue and playfulness. They push at the edges of the genre and proves that Auster is not only an exceptional prose writer but also adept at plot and suspense. It’s also a great book in which the city itself becomes a (somewhat unreliable) character. A novel I’ve come back to many times, this copy also happens to be personally signed by the author.
Detective Fiction by Charles J. Rzepka (2005)
Not a novel but a superb piece of non-fiction. It is surprisingly difficult to find a comprehensive history of crime fiction but this volume by Charles J. Rzepka is the best I have come across so far. It is the best kind of academic book: rigorously studied but also written with exceptional clarity and engagement. It explores the themes of the genre and takes us from Edgar Allen Poe and Conan Doyle to American pulp fiction and the Cold War. Highly recommended.
Influence on The Fat Detective Trilogy
In putting together this list I can see how all these books had a part to play in the writing of The Fat Detective Trilogy. There is the sinister, conspiring couple of James M. Cain, the paranoid amateur detective of Cornell Woolrich and the puzzling of Conan Doyle (though Eugene Blake is no Sherlock Holmes). And from Paul Auster there is the trio of stories and a sense of playfulness. Let me know your favourite crime books – are there any you think I should read?