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

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I became hooked on crime fiction thanks to the encouragement of my mum who started me reading, and gave me the keys to the crime kingdom with her crime and thriller collection very early on. Having quickly rejected the Golden Age – far too dull for my liking – the first thunderbolt was reading Sherlock Holmes, and then dipping into American detective story magazines such as Bloodhound, filled with tough detectives, gangsters, and femmes fatales. With these in particular, my love of baffling puzzles, tortured detectives, and gritty realism was born, and the seeds were sown for a deep and long lasting love of crime fiction.

atreasuryofsherlockholmes_200The Treasury of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
A Treasury of Sherlock Holmes arrived in my life around the age of 10, and what more needs to be said about his influence on a young girl with an inquisitive mind and a vivid imagination? Here was a detective with a dark heart, a phenomenal power of detection, an acid wit and keen intelligence, an affable sidekick, and a raft of seemingly unsolvable cases. As an adult looking back, it’s with a sense of joy that I remember playing detective myself with each of these mysteries, and no doubt boring everybody witless with my own theories…
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mugger_200The Mugger by Ed McBain
Now this was a real eye-opener when I got my hands on my adult library ticket some time before I should have! Along with Raymond Chandler, my long standing love of American crime fiction took hold with my first experience of the bustling world of McBain’s 87th Precinct in his brilliant re-imagining of the gritty underbelly of New York. With noble and sometimes flawed detectives, violent criminals, pithy, sharp dialogue and compact mysteries, I fair raced through these, and made an early pact that I would only ever marry a man like detective Steve Carella. I am still unmarried.
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copkiller_100Cop Killer by Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo
By strange coincidence I first encountered Sjowall and Wahloo as a teenager wrestling with not only the confusions of puberty, but also exploring for the first time the knotty world of politics. Hence, the discovery of the Martin Beck series, so deeply underscored by the authors’ own Marxist political leanings, struck a chord with me at this time. The books revealed themselves as masterful police procedurals, often imitated but seldom bettered, and provided a real sense of the social and political nature of the society they represented. Also, it has to be said, they gave rise to my general pre-occupation with Scandinavian crime fiction to this day.
Cop Killer (The Martin Beck series, Book 9)

Maigretandtheoldlady_100Maigret and the Old Lady by Georges Simenon
I can’t remember exactly when I read my first Maigret, but again the compact and understated style of these books held an instant appeal for me. I quickly became attached to the dour, cynical French detective, with his penchant for a pipe and a hot stove to warm his nether regions on. Again, like Sjowall and Wahloo, the feel of the more conscientious exploration of society at large through the experiences of the detective entranced me, and added something more to crime reading instead of the boring linear plots I so often encountered.
Cop Killer (The Martin Beck series, Book 9)

laidlaw_100Laidlaw by William McIlvanney
I am an ardent fan of Scottish and Irish crime fiction, despite being neither Scots nor Irish. The darker side of the human psyche seems more in evidence in their police procedurals. This book hit me like a runaway train, and I still cite McIlvanney’s protagonist Detective Jack Laidlaw as one of my favourite detectives. I loved the fact that he had a dubious morality, was always in conflict with his superior officers, and that his lone wolf persona was so reminiscent of the American crime novels that I so enjoyed. I do so like my detectives with anger and angst…

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Our other contributors have also shared the books that got them hooked on crime. Click here to discover what they picked.

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