Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Crime Writer's Essential Reading List

Some time back, I moderated a panel with two other crime writers. It just so happened the gig fell on the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Maltese Falcon. I asked my team how The Falcon had affected their own writing, and both of them brightly said they'd never read the book. These are two Times list-leading noir writers. I was a little surprised, but I like both of them, so I'm not going to out them here. Besides, every time I'm with Gary Phillips and Gary Niebuhr, and they start talking about noir, I realize how woefully deficient my own reading is. For instance, Cornell Woolrich is a blank to me as are Jim Thompson, Hunter S. Thompson, and William Burroughs. I've read Anna Katherine Green, Sherlock Holmes, and Carroll John Daly, who created the very first hard-boiled detective in Race Williams. I'm not going to say any of those are essential for a crime writer, but I do happen to believe anyone writing the P I novel ought to read Hammett, Chandler, and Ross MacDonald.

Okay, how about you? What's your essential reading list for the knowledgeable crime writer?

7 comments:

Michael Haskins said...

You named some of the greats, but I think today there are more than a large handful of good writers that should be ready by writers. James Lee Burke, without a doubt, Jim Hall, Bob Crais, Bob Morris, Randy Wayne White, Gayle Lynds; everytime I read their books I come away with something I can "borrow" in my writing. Lynds has to be the Queen of the big thriller and the others have characters worth killing for.
Michael Haskins
www.michaelhaskins.net

Rob said...

Can't forget James M. Cain. James Crumley, too. And Larry Block's Matthew Scudder novels are a must.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think there's a key point in the blog post - it might depend on the subgenre you write in. I'd feel like the pot to lecture anyone, in reality, because I'm still so new to crime fiction myself.

However, if there's one contemporary writer I'd say everyone should read, it's probably Ken Bruen. Not only does he write across a range of subgenres, he has an incredibly distinctive voice, and the ability to knock you on your ass with a few words.

Cameron Hughes said...

Lawrence Block is a must, of course. Ross McDonald is truly underrated, George P. Pelecanos is essential and has been for years.

If you can get your hands on them, the Dortmunder series by Donald Westlake are perfect examples of telling funny stories.

John Connolly is brilliant, Vicki Hendricks is really good. Michael Connolly has shown us how its done with modern cop stories(Not Rankin, who is okay, but a pale imitation)

Steve Z. said...

I have to agree with Cameron Hughes regarding Donald Westlake's hilarious Dortmunder novels, which are gems of the comic crime genre. Westlake (as Richard Stark) is also the author of the very different, very hardboiled, and equally great Parker series. I'm doing a little scribbling myself, and it's always humbling to read Westlake's stuff during the day and then try to write that night. It often makes me think, What the heck am I doing? I believe Westlake has been a professional writer for about 45 years, and his recent efforts are still top-notch. So, it's Westlake for me.

Matt said...

Not a witer, but for essential reading I'd say...

Charles Willeford.
Roderick Thorp.
Kent Anderson.

Cameron Hughes said...

Can't believe I forgot Robert B. Parker. He's not as good as he was, but when he was great? HE WAS GREAT.