Crime Beat: MD Villiers on her top thrillers and thriller writers
It’s catch-up time. In May MD Villiers published her first crime novel, City of Blood, to considerable acclaim both here and in the UK. Here are her top 10 crime novels and novelists. In coming days Crime Beat will carry an extract from her novel, and she’s been severely questioned in the new Crime Beat second-only-to-waterboarding interrogation session. Next week she spills all.
1. No Country for Old Men. Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant crime thriller is at the top of my list. It’s also one of the few books that made the transition into film successfully, and if I have to pick a top ten list of villains, Anton Chigurh, will stand a good chance to take the number one spot. I’m a great admirer of McCarthy and also enjoyed his Border Trilogy.
2. The Postman Always Rings Twice. Chilling, dark, and, at times, funny. This short, but brilliant book tells the story of Frank and Cora and their murderous plans that never quite work out. I have no idea why James M Cain is not mentioned more often among the greats of crime writing.
3. Rum Punch. Elmore Leonard is one of my all time favourite crime writers and this book shows him at his best. The usual schemes and double-crossing you get from an Elmore Leonard novel, superb dialogue and a character like Jackie Burke. Tarantino’s film adaptation (Jackie Brown) was also fantastic. Leonard started off writing Westerns, and those are pretty good as well(Hombre and Valdez is Coming). The old Westerns seem to me to have close connections with the modern crime novel.
4. Brighton Rock. Murder, gangsters, victims, the ‘amateur detective’ and an English sea-side town. Graham Greene is known for his literary novels, but Brighton Rock is a classic crime novel. Not only does it have that striking opening sentence – so often quoted by crime writers – but the characters are memorable too. Whenever I visit Brighton, I can’t help but think of Pinkie and Ida.
5. Devil in a Blue Dress. I love PI novels and Walter Mosley writes them brilliantly. It’s hard to choose one book from his Easy Rawlins series, but Devil in A Blue Dress was the first, and a great read. I also loved Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned. Mosley certainly knows how to create great characters.
6. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. I know it’s not actually a crime novel, but I cannot make any kind of crime and thriller list without mentioning John le Carré. I grew up on his Cold War spy novels and I still think this is one of the best.
7. Fingersmith. Shortlisted for the Booker and the Orange Prize. This is a great historical crime novel set in Victorian times. Sarah Waters sets the scene with such skill that she instantly pulls you into the novel. Conspiracies, murder, more conspiracies, public executions. It’s a fantastic novel with so many twists and turns that it constantly surprised me.
8. The 39 Steps. Published in 1915. I’m not sure whether it was the first thriller of its kind, but John Buchan certainly showed a lot of people how to do it.
9. The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency. As mentioned before, I love PI novels, and they don’t come more original than Alexander McCall Smiths’s lovely series. It’s fresh and different and funny. Not at all your typical hard-boiled crime novel. There are no murders, or at least not so far. I wonder if Mma Ramotswe would ever get to investigate a murder deep in the Kalahari?
10. To give my list an even more international flavour, I have to mention Henning Mankel (I really like Wallander), Fred Vargas and Peter Temple. And of course, Edinburgh’s Ian Rankin.