CIS: My classics by Mark Edwards

Mark Edwards•button-150x150First, a confession. I will probably be booted out of the Crime Writers’ Association for this, but I have never actaully read anything from the Golden Age of crime. No Dorothy L Sayers. No Raymond Chandler. And no, nothing by Agatha Christie. I started reading thrillers and crime fiction in the early 90s and have read thousands of contemporary novels, but I’ve never felt the urge to go back to the old stuff. I associate Agatha Christie with boring, rainy afternoons when I was a kid, four channels on the TV, one of them showing Miss Marple or Murder on the Orient Express. It’s put me off for life, in the same way school has given me an aversion to Dickens and Hardy and pretty much anything written before World War II.

So when I was asked to pick four favourite classic crime novels I panicked. Classics? Do they mean books that were written before I was born? (1970, in case you were wondering.) I could pretend to be a huge fan of Mickey Spillane and Patricia Highsmith (I’ve seen the film of The Talented Mr Ripley – twice) but instead I’ve chosen some modern classics – along with one that actually was written before I entered this world. All of these books made a huge impact on me and made me wish I’d written them. And they are all far less boring than an episode of Miss Marple, at least in my opinion.

akissbeforedying200A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin
Narrative sleights of hand, shocking twists and turns, fatal relationships, a glimpse inside a damaged mind… All staples of the most popular sub-genre of crime fiction here in 2016: the psychological thriller. But none of this is new. Ira Levin, most famous for Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, was doing it back in 1953. Every aspiring psychological thriller writer should read this. It’s a masterclass that never dates.
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misery300Misery by Stephen King
If this was published today it would be marketed as a psychological thriller and called something like Misery: a gripping hold-your-breath thriller with an ending you won’t see coming. Everyone knows the plot. A writer is held prisoner by his number one fan. I remember reading this in one sitting on Christmas Day 1987 and it remains my favourite King novel.
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Red DragonRed Dragon by Thomas Harris
A hugely unoriginal choice, I know. But how can I leave it out? The first two novels featuring Hannibal Lecter blew me and everyone else away. Harris’s masterstroke was to focus on the FBI’s psychological profiling, combining that with rich insight into the creation of a psychopath. Then he added a layer of gothic erudition, with all the references to William Blake that culminate in the unforgettable scene when the Tooth Fairy eats the painting that obsesses him. Red Dragon is the ultimate barnstorming bestseller.
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AmericanPsychoBookAmerican Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Is it a crime novel? Well, it certainly contains a lot of crime…or does it? We are never sure if the horrific scenes that made this book so notorious are all in Patrick Bateman’s head, which was a masterstroke on the part of B.E.E., who gets a lot of bad press these days but who displayed something very close to genius in this book. It’s hilarious, both boring and gripping, disturbing and so clever it makes me want to weep. The scene with the urinal cake! The business cards! I feel the need to reread it yet again.
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Mark Edwards’ new novel The Devil’s Work has just been released so watch for our review. Classics in September 2016 is sponsored by Bloomsbury Reader.

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1 Comment

  1. Margit Appleton Reply

    I thought that contribution by Mark Edwards very very sad. Never read any Dorothy Sayers? Never any Agatha Christie? Just knows her from dreary telly series? I find that quite hard to take (seriously). Maybe Edwards with his grubby t-shirt just isn’t my kind of author. Just a thought…

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