He may spend a lot of time poring over new crime fiction for newspapers and magazines, but Barry Forshaw (whose latest book is a guide to Scandinavian crime fiction, Death in Cold Climate, and whose next book is British Crime Film) makes a point of dusting off some favourites in the few gaps that appear in his reading regime. Here he talks us through a few classics we may have missed.
The Murder Room
P D James
The doughty Inspector Adam Dalgliesh finds himself in a private museum on Hampstead Heath. One of the family trustees has been brutally murdered and the future of the museum is up for grabs. As so often with Holland Park’s most venerable novelist, the handling of violent death in a closed-off setting is consummately handled and The Murder Room is vintage PD James.
The Mask of Dimitrios
Eric Ambler’s most famous book gets better with the years: The crime novelist Latimer hears about the evil Dimitrios in Istanbul when looking at the latter’s dead body, freshly retrieved from the Bosphorous. And Latimer makes the mistake of trying to find out the truth about the murdered man. Wonderfully atmospheric, with a narrative that commands from the first page, this is probably the most authoritative of Ambler’s political thrillers.
John Connolly’s Every Dead Thing, featuring Detective "Bird" Parker, was a highly unusual entry in the field, written in a quixotic, arresting style. But Dark Hollow is equally unorthodox. Connolly remarked that he wanted to give this book a very sinister feel, rather than just a gruesome one. Bird returns to the wintry Maine of his childhood, where a woman and a child are savagely killed. Disturbing and unsettling fare.
The Ministry of Fear
London in the Blitz is brilliantly conjured by one of the greatest of English writers in this dazzling piece. Greene claimed a contentious division between his ‘entertainments’ and his ‘literary’ work, but the moral issues here are as rigorously handled as anything by Greene in his more ambitious novels. Arthur Rowe, full of guilt after the death of his sick wife, is plunged into a dangerous world of murderous, shadowy figures. Possibly the author’s most sheerly enjoyable novel in the ‘thriller’ vein.
The Naming of the Dead
What would British crime fiction do without Ian Rankin? Apart from anything else, it would be somewhat lopsided in terms of the sexes, as there are markedly more Queens of Crime than Kings. And of the latter, Rankin is undoubtedly the ruling monarch, as The Naming of the Dead reminds us. Rankin was inspired by a variety of media scare stories about the G8 meeting of world leaders in Scotland in 2005, and perceived that this would make the perfect background for one of his novels.