David Jackson has generously agreed to give us a list of his most inspiring books:
Books that have inspired me
There are probably hundreds of books that have influenced me in one way or another. Among them I would include the classics by Salinger and Harper Lee and Steinbeck, but also those I read while growing up, from Enid Blyton onwards. It’s difficult to narrow the list down to a few specific books that have directly affected my own writing, but here goes:
‘Cop Hater’, Ed McBain
McBain has certainly been the biggest influence on me as a crime writer. I have every one of his 87th Precinct novels, and they take pride of place on my bookshelf. I love the procedural detail, the vivid descriptions of the city (fictional, although based closely on New York), the fast pace and the snappy interplay between characters. I have selected ‘Cop Hater’ here as it’s the one that kicked off the series, but perhaps more memorable are those featuring the devious Deaf Man, introduced in ‘The Heckler’.
‘The Big Sleep’, Raymond Chandler
The first of Chandler’s Marlowe books. Superb writing, but what I really love about the books is the humour, which can be a tricky thing to pull off. A wonderful example is at the start of the novel, where Carmen says to Marlowe, ‘Tall, aren’t you?’ and he replies, ‘I didn’t mean to be.’ The cops I have met in real life have all had a strong (and sometimes morbid) sense of humour, and I think that any detective novel that fails to include it is missing a key ingredient.
‘The Juror’, George Dawes Green
Probably not as well-known as some of the other books here, this was also turned into a film (starring Demi Moore). The reason I’ve included it is not so much for the story as for the writing style. Written in present tense third person, and using pithy sentence fragments, it adopts a style very much mirrored in my own novels.
‘Carry on, Jeeves’, P G Wodehouse
As mentioned above, humour is a tricky thing to get right. Most supposedly comic novels fail miserably in my view. Wodehouse is a glorious exception. He is one of the few authors who can have me laughing out loud, often through the ingenious choice of a single apposite word. Like several other Jeeves books, this one is a collection of short stories.
‘Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris
The book that set the bar for all serial killer novels to come, and still pretty much unsurpassed. Harris’s genius was in getting the reader to root for a man who, on the face of it, should be detestable.
‘Service of All the Dead’, Colin Dexter
As with the McBain books, all of the Inspector Morse novels are prominently displayed on my bookshelf. His love and mastery of the English language shines through in every paragraph. Where else would you find a phrase like ‘she walked boustrophedon along the pews’?
‘Gone, Baby, Gone’, Dennis Lehane
Another wonderful author. Lehane wrote modern crime classics such as Mystic River and Shutter Island, but I love his crime-writing private eye duo Kenzie and Gennaro. Again, there is enormous wit in these fast-moving books.
‘Right as Rain’, George Pelecanos
If you loved The Wire (on which Pelecanos was a screenwriter), you’ll also love the man’s novels. My favourites feature private detective Derek Strange. These are powerful, gritty stories of life on the street, in which character is king.
‘Marathon Man’, William Goldman
The movie is an all-time favourite of mine, and the novel is just as gripping. The short, snappy writing style is right up my street.
‘The Illustrated Man’, Ray Bradbury
If you want beautiful prose that transports you to fantastical worlds, Bradbury is your man. I would love my writing to be even half as good as his. ‘The Illustrated Man’ is actually an interconnected collection of short stories.
‘Life of Pi’, Yann Martel
Readers of my books will know that I like a good twist now and again. Although Life of Pi isn’t a crime novel, it has a jaw-dropping reveal at the end that will keep you thinking long after you put it down.
‘A Christmas Carol’, Charles Dickens
I re-read this every Christmas, and not just because of the festive message. It’s the perfect example of how a protagonist does not have to be likeable for the reader to want to follow their story. It also contains one of the best opening-line hooks in literature: ‘Marley was dead; to begin with.’
I personally am a huge fan of both Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos, and I need to re-read some of Colin Dexter’s Morse novels, as I really haven’t read that many. Got to agree that The Juror is a great book. What do you think of David’s list? And what books have inspired you?