First, a word about the shelves of books you can see in this picture. You’ll have spotted that the books are all arranged by colour. It’s something my wife decided to try. Pretty, right? But it also drives me a little crazy. Just recently, beardy crime writer Stuart MacBride was in my attic (I had to release him before I transformed into Annie Wilkes) and I’m fairly sure he thought this shelving system was grounds for divorce. He may be right. I’ve noticed two things since my books have been arranged this way: one, I’ve developed a worrying tendency to buy books with green or purple spines to try and boost my paltry collections; and two, I do a lot more swearing when I’m trying to track down a specific novel these days…
What author have you discovered and loved recently?
Two novels that I’ve enjoyed enormously just recently are Stav Sherez’s A Dark Redemption and Ann Cleeves’s Raven Black. I loved A Dark Redemption for the beauty and power of Sherez’s lyrical prose, as well as the compelling way that DI Jack Carrigan’s investigation of the murder of a beautiful Ugandan student in London stirs memories of Carrigan’s own haunted past. Raven Black has made me want to visit Shetland as soon as possible. Cleeves conjures a vivid sense of island life, and her beautifully constructed plot had me addicted and completely fooled.
Is there an author who is your guilty pleasure (or any book you’d rather have a brown paper bag over while reading?)
I’d find it hard to think of any book as a guilty pleasure. There’s too much snobbery about literature, anyway, and besides, I suspect that people in glass genre houses really shouldn’t throw stones. Mind you, there are loads of books I’m feeling guilty about not having read yet and a whole bunch I’m planning to get to when I finish the manuscript I’m currently working on, including, among others: Laura Wilson’s A Willing Victim; Tom Wood’s The Hunter; Julia Heaberlin’s Playing Dead; and Laura Lippman’s The Innocents.
What’s the book you’d choose as your Desert Island book?
It would come down to a choice between Eric Newby’s Love and War in the Apennines and Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Both brilliant pieces of travel fiction, among many other things, and if I’m going to be stuck on a desert island, I reckon I’d long to read about journeying elsewhere.
Is there a book that you lend out and push onto all your friends?
Lend one of my books? That’s crazy talk. But there are certain books I’ve bought as gifts for people many times. One of them is Oracle Night by Paul Auster, a beautifully written tale about a novelist who becomes sucked into a parallel world via the story he’s writing in his magical new notebook. Another is John Colapinto’s About the Author, a fun and inventive novel with shades of Patricia Highsmith. It’s the story of a wannabe author who passes off his flatmate’s novel as his own and suffers dire consequences as a result.
Can books change lives? If so, which one changed yours?
Absolutely. A lot of books have changed and shaped my life, but the one with the most lasting impact was handed to me back in August, 2001. I was travelling through America at the time (Kerouac was to blame) and I found myself in New Orleans in high summer. The heat and humidity was so high that I decided to spend a day reading in the shade. I ended up browsing in a second-hand bookshop in the French Quarter where I asked the guy behind the counter for a recommendation. He sold me a copy of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye for three dollars. Best investment I ever made.
What are your top ten books?
Impossible to say, but in addition to the ones mentioned above, another ten favourites include:
Megan Abbott’s Bury Me Deep;
Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing;
James Lee Burke’s The Tin Roof Blowdown;
Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep;
Harlan Coben’s Tell No One;
Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair;
Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley;
Susan Hill’s The Small Hand;
Dennis Lehane’s A Drink Before the War; and
Donald Westlake’s The Hot Rock;
What’s your most treasured book on your bookcase?
I’m going to cheat again and give you three. First up is my battered old edition of the Collins paperback thesaurus. I’ve had it since school and although the binding is completely shot and the pages are falling out, I’m superstitious enough to believe that I can’t write without it. Second and third are two cherished gifts from my wife: a Louisiana State University Press edition of James Lee Burke’s The Lost Get-Back Boogie and an illustrated edition of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon with an introduction by Sara Paretsky.
Chris Ewan is the author of the critically acclaimed Safe House, a standalone thriller set in the Isle of Man and recently published by Faber and Faber. He’s also the author of the Good Thief’s Guide series of mystery novels about hack novelist and globetrotting thief-for-hire, Charlie Howard. The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam won the Long Barn Books First Novel Award and all of the Good Thief’s Guide mysteries (Amsterdam, Paris, Vegas, and Venice) have been shortlisted for the Last Laugh Award. Find out more at www.chrisewan.com or follow Chris on twitter @chrisewan