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Crime Beat

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Top Ten Krimis : Roger Smith makes his choice

Mixed BloodRoger SmithComing soon to a book shop near you will be Roger Smith’s no holds barred Mixed Blood (Henry Holt, distributed locally by Pan Macmillan.) To give you some idea of what sort of krimi you’ll find on Smith’s shelves here’s his top 10 in, to quote him, ‘no particular order’.

1. Glitz, Elmore Leonard
This is when Elmore Leonard really hit his stride, doing what he does best: a multi-viewpoint narrative that moves like hell. Great dialogue (of course), a tough-but-vulnerable hero, a sick and nasty villain, with a good-looking woman thrown in. Is there anybody out there who wouldn’t kill to be able to write as effortlessly as this?

2. Point Blank, Richard Stark
I was an impressionable early teen when I first read this, and I still dip into it once in a while. Parker (no first name, precious little backstory) is out of prison and wanting revenge. As lean as a Brazilian supermodel, this book sucks you whole into Parker’s amoral world. Stark was the alias of Donald Westlake, who died in Dec 2008.

3. No Country For Old Men, Cormac McCarthy
Loved the movie. Love the book even more. McCarthy strips his prose down to bare essentials and takes us on a dark tour of the Texas badlands. He effortlessly shifts between multiple viewpoints and casually tosses out some of the greatest dialogue I’ve read in years: “There is no description of fool, he said, that you fail to satisfy”. I know there could never be a sequel… Pity.

4. The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
Forget about the limp movie version, and read this deadpan amorality tale from the fabulously understated Highsmith. Before you know it, you are rooting for the most seductive anti-hero series fiction has ever produced: Tom Ripley. Tom is chosen by the wealthy Herbert Greenleaf to retrieve his son, Dickie, from Italy. Ripley insinuates himself into Dickie’s world and soon finds that his passion for a lifestyle of wealth and sophistication transcends moral compunction. Tom will become Dickie Greenleaf — at all costs. All five Ripley books (spanning 1955 – 1991) are essential reading.

5. Tough Guys Don’t Dance, Norman Mailer
Alcoholic writer Tim Madden awakes one morning with a gruesome hangover, a painful tattoo on his upper arm, blood all over the passenger seat of his Porsche, a severed female head in his marijuana stash, and almost no memory of his actions on the preceding night. Bled dry by alimony payments, Mailer whacked out this short, hard-edged crime novel for the money. Wish he’d done more – he seems to be having a high old time.

6. The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson
The narrator, Lou Ford, is a small-town sheriff who appears to be a sweet, dumb, hayseed. In reality he’s a super-sharp psychopath, fighting a nearly-constant urge to act violently. Ford describes his urge as the sickness. A Thompson classic, and a reminder that protagonists don’t have to be nice.

7. The Big Nowhere, James Ellroy
Three men are caught up in a series of mutilation killings against the backdrop of blacklist-era Los Angeles. Ellroy writes like a speed demon. Story goes that he was told by a publisher that his manuscript was too long, so rather than lose any content he just chopped out unnecessary words. Some of his later books verge on self-pastiche, but this one is relentless.

8. Dog Soldiers, Robert Stone
A counter-culture Conrad, Stone’s Vietnam-era tale of drug dealing and deception has worn pretty well. He has a way with character, dialogue and off-hand violence that is unique. Great climax with people dropping hallucinogenics and getting shot to pieces in the California desert.

9. God’s Pocket, Pete Dexter
Leon Hubbard was arrogant and near psychotic. So when he was killed on a South Philadelphia construction site, everyone who knew him wanted to bury the bad news with the body. All, that is, except two — Leon’s mother and a local columnist. Funny and frightening, this has Dexter’s trademark skill with multiple-POVs, a brilliantly conjured “City of Brotherly Love” and a style all of his own.

10. Drive, James Sallis
“I drive. That’s what I do. All I do.” So says Driver, the enigmatic movie stunt-driver/ getaway wheelman in this neo-noir. A robbery gone bad. Betrayal and revenge. With a dark and nasty backstory bleeding through. Barely longer than a novella, this is a sawn-off shotgun of a book. Sallis’s writing is cut to the bone, but he still produces hard urban poetry. Read it in one sitting.



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