Desert Island Crime with Mark Billingham
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 Cry Baby (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.
'One of the great series of British crime fiction' --- THE TIMES
'Cry Baby is the perfect prequel to send us back to revel in Tom Thorne's twenty years. As if we needed reminding how good Mark Billingham is' --- VAL MCDERMID
It's 1996. Detective Sergeant Tom Thorne is a haunted man. Haunted by the moment he ignored his instinct about a suspect, by the horrific crime that followed and by the memories that come day and night, in sunshine and shadow.
So when seven-year-old Kieron Coyne goes missing while playing in the woods with his best friend, Thorne vows he will not make the same mistake again. Cannot.
The solitary witness. The strange neighbour. The friendly teacher. All are in Thorne's sights.
This case will be the making of him . . . or the breaking.
The gripping prequel to Mark Billingham's acclaimed debut, Sleepyhead, Cry Baby is the shocking first case for one of British crime fiction's most iconic detectives.
'Tom Thorne is one of the most credible and engaging heroes in contemporary crime fiction. Mark Billingham is a master of psychology, plotting and the contemporary scene - making the Thorne novels the complete package. Twenty years in and better than ever'
'Mark Billingham is one the biggest names in crime fiction and one the genre's most formidable talents'
'Billingham is always a must read'