I was asked to say a few words on my Top 5 Crime books for Shots Mag. Here they are:
GBH by Ted Lewis
Is there anywhere more sad and oppressive than an English seaside town in winter? Mablethorpe in Lincolnshire is the setting for the masterwork of one of the UK’s great under-rated crime writers. Lewis is best known for Jack’s Return home, which was filmed as Get Carter, but this is more nuanced, and of an ever darker tone. It is to the fringes of this seaside town that a gangster retreats from the London crime scene, as past events creep up on him and a taut dual narrative tightens like a ligature round the throat. Though not even in print, the influence of GBH is surely evident in a number of televisual, cinematic and literary works that followed.
I Was Dora Suarez by Derek Raymond
The first twenty-five pages of this book are probably the second most nihilistic piece of fiction I’ve ever read, while the closing pages are the most nihilistic. Raymond takes the notion of noir to a whole other level in this story of an axe-wielding psycho amok in London, and his ties to the Soho underworld in the burgeoning AIDS-era. It’s a novel utterly devoid of hope. It is a book that is pornographic in its unflinching depiction of violence, one entirely constructed of shadows.
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
Is murder-suicide a crime? Spark’s story of an elusive protagonist suffering what appears to be a very public breakdown that ultimately leads to a grim and sad conclusion is a short, unnerving and utterly brilliant piece of prose, a puzzle that has no real solution but digs deep in its portrayal of a distinctly modern sense of alienation. Spark herself described it as a “whydunnit”. I’d describe it as unforgettable.
Happy Like Murderers by Gordon Burn
I tell everyone that Happy Like Murders is sick, disturbed, haunting and haunted – and brilliant. It takes a special writer to elevate the diabolical story of Fred and Rose West into a viable work of art – high literature, in fact – but Gordon Burn has the sense of humanity, as well as an awareness of time and place to pull it off. His eye for detail is second to none, and he does not judge this barbaric pair – he merely tells their story. I say ‘merely’, but a lesser writer would have cracked after the first chapter. I rank it as one of the best British books of the last century, and the reason I have yet to visit Gloucester. I’m in no hurry to do that.
The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
I first saw the TV movie adaptation of this, starring Tommy Lee Jones as the rather hapless and not entirely dislikeable double killer Gary Gilmore, when I was about ten years old and have been a firm opponent of the death penalty ever since. Mailer’s account is one of the great American works, a totemic work of journalism that crosses over into the realm of the novel (a mode Truman Capote pioneered with In Cold Blood – both of which were later an influence on Gordon Burn too) . It’s forensic, poetic, ebullient, tragic, epic. The USA in a nutshell, then.
(Original piece here).