Andrew Taylor’s Bookshelf

Andrew Taylor has written many crime novels, including the best-selling The American Boy and The Anatomy of Ghosts, both of which were shortlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. His awards include the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger, the John Creasey for best first crime novel, the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger (twice) and Sweden’s Martin Beck Award. He is the Spectator‘s crime fiction reviewer.


What author have you discovered and loved recently?

John Lawton: his Inspector Troy series straddles World War II and much of the Cold War; part crime stories, part thrillers, the novels are often inspired by historical events. Lawton has a wonderful ability to convey the nuances of both history and morality.

Is there an author who is your guilty pleasure (or any book you’d rather have a brown paper bag over while reading?)

Numerous stories by Enid Blyton, that seminal proto-crime writer for the under-12s. They are worth revisiting just to see how she does it. Over forty years after her death she’s still one of the world’s best-selling and most-translated authors. She must have been doing something right.

What’s the book you’d choose as your Desert Island book?

A never-ending Moleskine notebook with a pen to write in it.

Is there a book that you lend out and push onto all your friends?

The one I’m pushing at present is The Killer Is Dying by James Sallis (No Exit). If you haven’t read it yet, please go out and buy it right away. If you had to put a label on it, it would be ‘Metaphysical Noir’; but the truth is that, like all great books, it’s uncategorisable.

Can books change lives? If so, which one changed yours?

That’s an easy one for me: The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. I read this at a critical moment when I was trying to write my first novel, which wasn’t necessarily going to be a crime story. Highsmith changed everything for me:  she proved, once and for all, that crime novels needn’t be formulaic, repetitive or morally simplistic (though God knows many of them were and are all those things). This novel turned me into a crime writer.

What are your favourite books of all time?

Andrew Taylor's Bookshelves...Take a seat in the comfy chair as Andrew runs through you his top ten

I have chosen books which are all crime novels, most of them by authors who are safely dead. All are essential reading for anyone with a serious addiction to reading and writing crime fiction. Restricting the number to ten isn’t easy.

Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

For reasons, see above.

The Tiger in the Smoke – Margery Allingham

Christie did better puzzles; Sayers had a wider range of cultural references and higher ambitions; but Allingham was the best novelist of the Queens of Britain’s Golden Age. This book, perhaps her best, features a memorable psychopath – and his almost equally chilling Nemesis, an elderly clergyman.

The Franchise Affair – Josephine Tey

Tey only wrote eight crime novels. They don’t follow a pattern, except they are all sharp, original and intelligent. This one was based on a real-life eighteenth-century case of alleged abduction, updated to the twentieth century.

Bleak House – Charles Dickens

One of the themes of this novel is the difference between law and justice. Its characters include Inspector Bucket, one of the first police detectives in fiction.

The Man on the Balcony – Sjowall and Wahloo

Scandinavian crime is on the ascendancy. Some of it is good, some of it is frankly mediocre – but none of it really compares with Sjowall and Wahloo’s 12-book Martin Beck series, of which this is the third title. Written in the late 1960s and early 1970s, these books revolutionised the police procedural and provided an extended critique of contemporary Sweden that’s still relevant today.

Sherlock Holmes Short Stories – Arthur Conan Doyle

No one needs me to tell them why to read these stories. Crime fiction on the page and on the screen wouldn’t exist without them.

Farewell My Lovely – Raymond Chandler

Style matters. This is what you get if you cross an English public school education in the classical tradition with pulp fiction and Los Angeles in the late 1930s. The result is timeless – or rather outside time, in the same way as the fiction of (say) P.G.Wodehouse or Marcel Proust. But Chandler does a better class of corpse, and his witty, elegant prose will last as long as literature itself.

What’s your most treasured book on your bookcase?

That’s a hard one. For sentimental and practical reasons I’ll pick my dog-eared two-volume Shorter Oxford Dictionary. We’ve been through a lot together over the years.


Andrew Taylor’s latest novel is The Anatomy of Ghosts (Penguin). His next book, set in eighteenth-century New York, will be out in early 2013. His website is