Every month we ask a bestselling crime author to tell us what books they would take with them if they were stranded on a desert island.
This month, MARK BILLINGHAM, author of The Killing Habit (and many more bestselling novels) reveals his top 8 picks especially for Crime Vault readers.
Mark Billingham: Trying to pick just eight books from a genre I love so much is extremely tricky and, hard though I’ve tried, I haven’t managed to find even one book that’s dinghy-shaped. Anyway, here are eight crime novels I would never tire of reading (though obviously I hope I’ll be rescued before I’ve read a single page…)
THE MALTESE FALCON (1929) by Dashiell Hammett
Quite possibly the greatest crime novel of all time. Still a cracking read nearly ninety years on from its publication, this was the novel that kickstarted the hardboiled movement. Fizzing, fat-free prose, an incredible cast of characters and, in Sam Spade one of the most iconic sleuths of all time. This is also the novel I chose to write about in the fabulous Books To Die For which I heartily recommend to any fans of the genre.
RED DRAGON (1981) by Thomas Harris
I bought this at an airport, and didn’t put it down even when I was eating. Hannibal Lecter’s first appearance became the template for a legion of inferior imitations and though filmed twice – once well and once badly – the book still affords the most powerful glimpse into a world where monsters are made flesh.
THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1901) by Arthur Conan Doyle
I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes by an eccentric maths teacher, who would read the stories to the class when he got bored during his own lessons. This probably explains why I love detective fiction and can’t add up.
NIGHT DOGS (1996) by Kent Anderson
The most powerful cop novel ever written. Hanson, a damaged Vietnam vet, struggles through the summer of 1975 to exorcise his demons on Portland streets that have themselves become a combat zone. Makes Joseph Wambaugh look like a scriptwriter for Midsomer Murders.
THE GODFATHER (1969) by Mario Puzo
Until the summer I came across this, the only books I’d read were those I’d been told to read at school. This was the first book I chose for myself and my first encounter with popular, adult fiction. It sparked my passion for storytelling, as well as having a couple of somewhat…fruity moments, which were very much appreciated as a fourteen-year-old.
THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY (1955) by Patricia Highsmith
In creating Tom Ripley, Highsmith gave us a chilling depiction of a con-man, serial killer, and, ultimately, a very American anti-hero. In an era that celebrated wealth and status above wisdom and accomplishment, Ripley – deceitful, murderous and totally without conscience – is the perfect early-twentieth-century protagonist. These days, he would probably be the President.
THE BIG BLOWDOWN (1996) by George Pelecanos
Though he is happy to call himself a mystery writer, Pelecanos’s tale of Washington’s immigrant community from the early thirties through to 1959 has an epic sweep. Young men take hard decisions in a city which goes to war and then struggles to recover from it. Gripping and heart-breaking in equal measure. People may know Pelecanos as writer and producer on acclaimed TV shows like The Wire and The Deuce, but if they have yet to read any of his novels, they have a major treat in store.
THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS (2006) by John Connolly
Though not strictly speaking a crime novel, I don’t think this is cheating, because Connolly is best-known as the writer of very dark mystery fiction in the shape of the Charlie Parker novels. This, in places, is every bit as dark; a funny, terrifying and deeply moving story about childhood and the transformative power of stories themselves.
The paperback of the Killing Habit is out 21st March 2019.