Here’s a continuation of the list of my favourite crime novels. Here’s part one if you haven’t read that
6) The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey’s novel is a superb example of the art of storytelling. It’s a murder mystery without a physical corpse (the murder concerned is historical). It pretty much takes place in one room, a hospital room, where a bedridden detective attempts to prove that Richard III didn’t murder the princes, with the aid of a few friends. It shouldn’t work at all. In fact, the difficult premise alone would be enough to finish off all but the best writers – I can think of but a handful of writers who could pull off the trick that Tey works so brilliantly here. If you haven’t read it before do so immediately. It is so persuasive a piece of fiction that it will make you rethink Richard III’s legacy, or at least look into the history further via Google!
7) The Talented Mr Ripley – Apparently Nobel Laureate VS Naipaul has such deductive powers that he can immediately tell the difference between male and female prose. If Mr Ripley wasn’t such a well known work, and Patricia Highsmith wasn’t such a well known novelist, I wonder if he could really divine gender from Highsmith’s ice-cold, spare prose and its brilliant exploration of the mind of the sociopathic Tom Ripley. Somehow I doubt it. Highsmith shares Jim Thompson’s ability to make you empathise and root for somebody who you would cross the street to avoid if you met them in real life. Brilliant stuff.
8 The Big Blowdown – George Pelecanos’ melodrama (the first of the Washington DC quartet) is slam-bang, warp-speed noir. But it’s done with such lightness of touch that you don’t even realise that it’s a noir until the very end. It takes the old film-noir staple of the cowardly friend on the rise through the criminal ranks and the courageous friend on the fall and spins it on its head. It is effortlessly brilliant and the pace never flags. If you want to learn how to write modern, pared-to-the-bone crime fiction, and you’re not sure how to do it, then start reading Pelecanos as soon as possible.
9) Point Blank (or The Hunter) – Last year, whilst having a day off work through illness, I stayed in bed and tried to read John Hawkes’ The Beetle Leg. I realised that this ‘Existential/Surrealist Western’ was in fact simply a dull, lifeless, but beautifully written load of nothing. I put it down, unfinished, and picked up Richard Stark’s Point Blank. I finished Stark’s novel in one very long sitting (despite having previously read it, years ago). The reason for this is that Stark (aka Donald Westlake) can tell a story and Hawkes can’t (though, to be fair to Hawkes, he isn’t much interested in storytelling). The pace is jet-fuelled, the prose is spare and the dialogue cracking. The protagonist, Parker, is a murderous scumbag and yet we find ourselves rooting for him. The set-up is simple and yet beautifully done.
10) The Getaway – I’ve written about it before, so I won’t go into that much detail, but Jim Thompson’s The Getaway is both a fast moving action thriller and a haunting noir. It carries off both tasks with aplomb and gives the reader a thrilling ride that also stays with them long after they’ve finished the final page. If you haven’t read it by now then it’s the perfect way to get into Thompson’s work.
I think I’ll continue this list into a top thirty as I’m rather enjoying it, but I’ll do it on a book-by-book basis, rather than as lists of five.