CrimeFictionLover: The five books that got me hooked on crime fiction

sherlock02For the last 11 weeks, each of our writers in turn has been sharing the five books that got them hooked on crime fiction. Everybody’s taste is different and we’ve seen an incredible variety of suggestions. There have been Golden Age classics and police procedurals. There’s been pulp fiction, and literary fiction. There’s even been surrealist noir. It’s been brilliant, and I’ve enjoyed editing each and every piece. What the series has underlined for me is just why crime fiction is the biggest selling genre, and why more crime fiction books are borrowed from libraries than any other kind. No matter what your taste, there are books out there that will get you hooked on crime fiction. Here are the ones that account for my own indoctrination…

hound_coverThe Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Like my colleague Jeremy Megraw, I read mysteries like the Encyclopedia Brown series as a child. I also enjoyed The Hardy Boys, though even then the characters seemed a little cardboard to me. And there was a strange set that I still remember called The Great Brain by John Dennis Fitzgerald, set in Utah during the 1890s. But it was in ninth grade, at high school in Canada, that they made us read The Hound of the Baskervilles. Well, they didn’t actually have to make me read it. I’d already watched the film starring Basil Rathbone on a classic films show called Magic Shadows and was happy to comply. I loved the the tantalising suggestion of the supernatural, and the haunting atmosphere of Dartmoor. But the clever thing is that Holmes throws the cold stones of logic and deduction through the delicate window pane of superstition. When you peer in you see that the horror isn’t down to a cursed canine – its source is human and of this world after all.
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SecretThe Secret History by Donna Tartt
Surprisingly, I managed to graduate from high school, and even got into a university in the UK, where books continued to distract me. Turning distraction into application, I was reviewing novels for the student newspaper when I was handed The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Here, students smarter than I was are reading classics at an exclusive American university. They become obsessed with the knowledge, customs and, ultimately, the darker side of Ancient Greek culture. Richard, our narrator, is from the wrong side of the tracks and is in for a true moral test. Does he try and gain the acceptance of the patrician clique that have taken him in by keeping their murderous deeds secret? And if he does so, can he ever really be like them? Tartt’s writing is sublime. There’s barely any action in this book but the tension throughout is thicker than victim Bunny Corcoran’s congealing blood. I wrote a brief appreciation of it over on my colleague LoiteringWithIntent‘s blog several months ago, if you want to know more about it.
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BlackDahliaThe Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
A few years later, I was listening to Radio 4 when they interviewed James Ellroy. The man is almost always vulgar, and told off the host for leaving ‘panty sniffing’ out of the biography of the author that was used to introduce him. But the story of how he came out of petty crime, grew obsessed with researching his own mother’s murder, and ultimate became a successful crime author – it had me in Waterstone’s that very afternoon. I picked up The Black Dahlia. Ellroy’s not the only author to write about the 1947 murder and mutilation of Elizabeth Short. However, his weaving of the story to involve boxing adversaries and police colleagues Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard, and all the city’s grifters, thugs and vested interests, resulted in what is arguably the ultimate example of LA noir. It kicks off the Dudley Smith Quartet, and though complex and meticulous it is driven by Ellroy’s genius with language as much as by Bleichert’s determination to eventually solve the murder.
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TellNoOneTell No One by Harlan Coben
This one I picked up in an airport, hoping it might put me to sleep on a flight to Florida. Oops. This is a book that won’t let you stop reading until it’s done. David Beck thinks his wife’s dead, but then an email linking to a webcam gives him a picture of her alive and well. He barely has time to scratch his head before his wife’s murder case is re-opened, and Dr Beck himself is one of the chief suspects. But there’s a lot more to it and not only are the police and the FBI involved, but so are some mysterious gangsters. Spearheading the activities of the latter is the North Korean bottle blond ball of fury, Eric Wu. Reputedly, he can tear your liver out with is bare hands, folks. Despite its complexity, double-bluffs and numerous implausible escapes, the unrelenting pace of Harlan Coben‘s writing makes Tell No One utterly compelling. I’d say it’s one of the best thrillers ever written.
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girl_with_dragon_tattoo_book_cover3The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
There are those who will criticise me for this selection, I know, but if it weren’t for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and my recent love of Scandinavian crime fiction, then Crime Fiction Lover might never have been born. Harriet Vanger went missing in the 1960s, and her uncle wants to know what happened to her. Is the killer mocking him by sending him flowers every year? Larsson’s disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist and tattooed misfit hacker Lisbeth Salander investigate exactly what happened the teenager. This book led to the explosion of Scandinavian crime fiction, something we very much enjoy here on the site. Dealing with everything from misogyny to Nazi-era Sweden and on to the corrupting influence of megarich corporations, it’s the first in the excellent Millennium Trilogy. But you knew that already, right?
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This concludes our Hooked on Crime series. Last week we brought you RoughJustice’s choices which you can read about here. Or click here to see what books all of our writers listed as the ones that got them hooked on crime fiction. We hope you’ve enjoyed the series. Feel free to post your own choices below.

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  1. rjcouper Reply

    have been trying to remember the name of a particular book…for years. I LOVED the use of the english language in it…something about the book just got me…even though in the end it wasnt all that “gripping”…The Secret History. so glad I stumbled upon this page…

  2. ian darling Reply

    I have always enjoyed crime fiction so enjoyed and identified with this piece. My five?

    A Dark Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine; The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By by George Simenon;Underworld by Reginald Hill; Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason and I would agree with you by adding Donna Tartt’s fab book.

    1. crimefictionlover Reply

      Thanks for responding and sharing your five books, Ian. Those are all great choices, worth checking out.

  3. Margaret Magarey Reply

    I was 15 and it was Agatha Christie, Mrs McGinty’s Dead. My transition from childhood to adult fiction.

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