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

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Two years ago, we asked all our contributors to think about the five books that got them hooked on crime fiction. You can see what everyone said here. But since 2013 we’ve had new joiners and their favourites haven’t been honoured. So we’re going to revive our ‘hooked on crime’ series and this week our Australian writer Nagaisayonara lists his…

I always feel like I only got hooked on crime fiction recently, but the more I dig deep into my memory the more I feel that my reading has never been far off crime fiction. The first non-picture book I read was an account of the Great Train Robbery, and in the last couple of years of primary school I devoured works by Tom Clancy, John Grisham and Stephen King. But it’s only recently that I’ve moved on to crime fiction proper. Here are the five books that really got me hooked.

guns-of-navaroneThe Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean
I have no idea how I picked up a copy of this 1957 WWII thriller when I was about 10 – I recall finishing the newspaper and having to choose between this and Les Miserables. After a short struggle with Hugo’s wretched ones, I picked this old paperback up and never looked back. In a few weeks I’d read all the Alistair MacLean I could find in the paperback section of our small local library. The story, which is based on the real life Battle or Leros. Allied forces were aiming to capture a German fortress on an island in the Agean Sea, where heavy artillery – the eponymous guns – were stopping 1,200 British soldiers from being rescued. Although this isn’t MacLean’s most pure crime fiction, it led me to the drug smugglers, spies and detectives that fill his other novels.
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And_Then_There_Were_None_US_First_Edition_Cover_1940And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
The Golden Age is a period of detective fiction I’ve always returned to – it’s just so dependable. But it’s where Christie deviates slightly from the rules of the genre that I believe she’s at her best. Whether it’s the unreliable narrator in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or the strange case of And Then There Were None, a detective novel without a detective, the queen of mysteries knows the rules… and when to break them. And Then There Were None tells the story of 10 strangers invited to an island shaped like a soldier (earlier versions used a more racist outline) – where they find 10 soldier dolls, and a record player playing ‘Ten little soldiers’. The soldiers are removed one by one, following the lines of the song until finally, as the title suggests, there were none.
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chandler6_farewell_my_lovelyFarewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
You may notice my user name is a Japanese translation of The Long Goodbye, although that wasn’t the Chandler novel that got me hooked. Farewell My Lovely is Chandler’s second novel to feature detective Philip Marlowe, after The Big Sleep, and in my view it’s the best written. It isn’t always rated at the top of the Chandler chart by other readers, but it’s my favourite for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the quality of one-liners is better than in any other Chandler novel. “A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole through a stained-glass window” or “he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food”. Secondly, I was reading a paperback copy when I met my wife. At a conference in Tokyo she asked what I was reading, I showed her, and the rest is history.
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RoseannaRoseanna by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
During the European trip which is a rite of passage for all antipodeans in their 20s I found a copy of this novel in a small bookstore in Gamla Stan, Stockholm. By the time I reached London three months later I had purchased and read all 10 Martin Beck novels, and had a substantially heavier backpack. The Martin Beck series is the perfect introduction to police procedurals – in a story arc that flows through the 10 self-contained novels, Sjöwall and Wahlöö get to the heart of 1960s and 70s Sweden, as it struggled with conflicting views on welfare, freedom and the Vietnam War. I’d hesitate to say Roseanna is the best of the Martin Beck novels, but it’s almost certainly the best introduction. The body of a young girl is found in a canal, and though police initially struggle to identify her, they eventually locate the killer and apprehend him through morally questionable means. This introduces a theme that runs through the whole series – the lengths police will go to get their man. Roseanna, along with the whole Martin Beck series, questions whether the end justifies the means.
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Mr RipleyThe Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
I must admit I was drawn to this book because of the movie, which is still one of my favourites despite starring three of my least favourite actors. Highsmith’s gift for psychological fiction and unique, intricate plots are enough to turn any crime sceptic into a crime fiction tragic. The author improves on the twisted psychology of her debut, Strangers on a Train, with Tom Ripley – a jealous scammer with a gift for impersonation. At the request of shipping magnate Herbert Greenleaf he travels to Italy to try to lure Herbert’s son Dickie back to the US. Upon arrival in Italy Ripley becomes obsessed with Dickie, with tragic consequences. We know from the fact that there are four more Ripley novels that Tom makes it out alive, but Highsmith leaves us feeling that Ripley may well spend the rest of his life plagued with guilt.
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More of our contributors talk about what got them hooked on crime here.

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