Welcome to Desert Island Crime, where each week a bestselling crime writer reveals their top chilling titles. This week, we ask Jessica Fellowes, author of The Mitford Murders and Bright Young Dead what 8 titles she would take with her if stranded on a desert island. Over to you Jessica….
Strangely enough, I have spent every summer holiday on an island, off the coast of Ireland, in a house with no electricity or running water (candles and Calor gas, rainwater butts and open air showers are our luxuries!). So I feel quite well equipped to write about my chosen crime books for a desert island.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Menacing and compulsive, Tartt is a master of multi-layered narratives, weaving suspense and dense characterisation. I spent a semester at a college in New England and though I happily did not suffer the fate of Bunny and his friends, I saw something of the repressed darkness that existed beneath the idyllic red brick university campus life. This feels real.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
This was an extraordinary look at a true crime, a horrifying massacre that left a town divided. Capote came in for a great deal of criticism for the close relationship he developed with the accused, and I’m not sure he managed complete objectivity. But it’s a skilful lesson in turning a real event into a page-turner.
Rumpole of the Bailey by John Mortimer
For a long time, I wanted to be a barrister, a fantasy largely fed by the red-wine drinking, insouciant and irreverent Rumpole. I love the cartoon illustrations of the lawyers, judges and criminals within yet there is a strong message from Mortimer that social injustice must be fought at every opportunity.
Peril At End House by Agatha Christie
In spite of the fact that I write 1920s crime novels, I have come very late to Christie. I was, absurdly, put off by her (completely untrue) reputation as someone who writes puzzles without strong character development. Thankfully, I was put right by the brilliant Sophie Hannah, who recommends this one as a way in to Christie’s oeuvre. Be warned, though, once you start, you can’t stop.
The Firm by John Grisham
Another example of my love of crime from the legal point of view. This is an absolute cracker of a book and no one does page turner better than Grisham, even when he’s cheesy and turning a cliched phrase. Mobs, greedy lawyers and the giant landscape of America – what could be better?
Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon
This is chilling, a story of a missing child in 1980s New York, about a mother who refuses to believe her six year old son has gone. Gutcheon writes this as a thriller but it contains powerful evocations of parental love. At times it is so frightening that I was almost angry with the person who recommended it to me – how dare she put me through this? – but it was worth it. Stick with it.
Agatha Raisin & the Quiche of Death by MC Beaton
This is pure delight, a total froth of a book yet the humour is fresh and funny, the observations of human behaviour spot on. Agatha Raisin is a brilliant creation, strident, nosy, ambitious and, in spite of her best efforts, completely tactless. I think she’s a Mma Precious Ramotswe of the Cotswolds.
Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard
Any writer has something to learn from Leonard about dialogue, and nowhere is he more whip-crackingly smart and funny than in Get Shorty. Set in LA, featuring mobsters and Hollywood greed, this is pure escapism and yet contains gold nuggets of real life truth.
Bright Young Dead is out now in paperback.