The main one for fiction is in the sitting room and was made by a carpenter in my local town here in Portugal. It took him a long time to get started on it (like 6 months) but I persuade myself that it was worth the wait. It is made out of mahogany so it’s not going anywhere fast, but is already overflowing. The top shelf, which is too high to reach, is prowled by two Mexican jaguars carrying toucans in their mouths. I have two bookcases in my office, both from Ikea, one is for crime novels, the other for all my research materials and reference books. On the top shelf I keep my chess sets and three Christmas gifts from a Ukrainian who used to work for me: a highly combustible church made by him out of red-headed matchsticks, a porcelain turbaned figure, who is actually full of vodka apparently, and finally a wooden mug for drinking beer. (He got my measure, that’s for sure).
What kind of books will definitely not be found in your bookcase?
I don’t go for romance, horror, fantasy or sci-fi. Even as a kid I couldn’t get into fantasy and while others were reading Lord of the Rings I was dealing with Alastair MacLean and Hammond Innes.
What author have you discovered and loved recently?
I’ve enjoyed Aravind Adiga’s two novels, The White Tiger and Last Man in Tower. They give me what I want from a book: an insight into a world I have no idea about, good writing with a powerful sense of place and strong characterization. Although these two books are technically literary fiction, they fulfill my idea of what a crime novel should be. As does Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine.
Where is your favourite place to read?
I mostly read in the mornings and it’s always something completely disconnected from the work I’m doing. I sit at the kitchen table at around 5.00am and read for half an hour or so. I love the silence and the solitariness of that time of day.
Can books change lives? If so, which one changed yours?
I had wanted to be a travel writer but the market for those books suddenly disappeared in the early 1990s. A friend read my travel stories and suggested I use the settings in a crime novel. I didn’t know where to start so he steered me towards Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard. That was my revelatory moment and I became a crime writer.
What’s the book you’d choose as your Desert Island read?
It would have to be something that could bear endless re-reading, like War and Peace.
What book did you give last as a present and to whom?
I gave A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan to a friend in France.
I tend to read books in tandem and I’ve just finished Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil and Snowdrops by A.D. Miller. I’ve just started a travel book on Cuba I found in a second hand bookstore called The Land of Miracles by Stephen Smith.
What are your top ten books?
Embers by Sandor Marai
The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald
A Heart So White by Javier Marías
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
Jazz by Toni Morrison
The Untouchable by John Banville
The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren
Stick by Elmore Leonard
What’s your most treasured book on your bookcase?
I don’t have one. I’m not big on treasuring. I have respect for them all.