CIS: My classics by Rachel Howzell Hall

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With the crime fiction genre now so well established and popular, today’s authors have plenty of places to turn for inspiration. Rachel Howzell Hall is the up-and-coming Los Angeles author behind Land of Shadows, an adroit police procedural of uncanny quality that had RoughJustice staggered when he reviewed it in May. Rachel is working on a follow-up called Skies of Ash also starring Lou Norton. As part of Classics in September, we invited her to share her five favourite classic crime novels with us. So now it’s over to Rachel Howzell Hall…


The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
“Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.” Of course. Let’s get the obvious one out of the way! I watch a lot of movies and television and have always seen spoofs of hardboiled detectives and the dames who love and torture them. I’ve developed a big crush on Phillip Marlowe – and the words Chandler put into his mouth… How did he come up with all that? And being the LA girl that I am, I love the setting.
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Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)
“Power is given only to him who dares to stoop and take it… one must have the courage to dare.” I know, right? Not a traditional crime novel but this pick from my days of Russian Lit in college boasts all the elements for crime novels. Murder. Money. Madness. Evil men who feel justified in their crimes. Why we all do the things we do. Is murder ever justified? Can murder ever be a good thing? It spurs a conversation about the distinctions between ‘homicide’ and ‘murder.’
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A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin (1953)
“When he called her ‘baby’ and held her in his arms he could get her to do practically anything.” A smart, manipulative and crazy student who will murder over and over again to get what he wants. Part of the coolness about this novel is that we know who the killer is. What we don’t know is how he’ll get caught. It’s a domestic drama, too, and unfortunately, men murdering their pregnant girlfriends (and her family) are becoming all too common occurrences. This story, like Rosemary’s Baby, features another vulnerable pregnant… hmm. What was going on in Levin’s life?
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And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (1939)
“I don’t know. I don’t know at all. And that’s what’s frightening the life out of me. To have no idea….” Seems like every ‘Gotcha!’ movie, including Se7en, was inspired by this tale of bad people getting offed one by one and in very unique, yet appropriate ways. Every character has committed some specific sin – even the nice spinster type. And you wonder as you speed through the pages, “Who’s next? And how? And why?”
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The Collector by Joseph Fowles (1963)
“I think we are just insects, we live a bit and then die and that’s the lot. There’s no mercy in things. There’s not even a Great Beyond. There’s nothing.” The viewpoints of both the collector and the collected are creepy as hell. In addition to the big idea of the masses versus the elite, you have the lay version: scary dude kidnaps unsuspected lady. And the ending is basically, ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter into this basement of Crazy and Evil.’ Scarier still: real-life serial killers have been inspired by this story. That’s how… good (gulp) Fowles writes.
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Tune in next week when TJ Cooke, author of Defending Elton, will share his classics. For more about Rachel Howzell Hall listen to this piece on NPR.

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