Where’s your bookcase located?
I’ve got two fairly large wooden bookcases propping up the living room wall, and as you’ll see from the photo they’re already dangerously close to overflowing. And while it would be nice to have one or two more, we’ve only got a small apartment and with space at a premium we have to be fairly selective with our furnishings. Who knows? Maybe at some point in the future we’ll find a bigger place and I’ll be able to expand a little. I can but hope…
What kind of books will definitely not be found in your bookcase?
You won’t find any romance or erotica, I’m afraid, which I’m sure comes as no surprise. And no YA either, which will come as even less of a surprise. Nor will you see a whole lot of fantasy on my shelves, although I certainly don’t mind a good sci-fi novel every now and then. I set no other boundaries for myself.
What author have you discovered and loved recently?
I’ve just discovered the handful of Callan novels James Mitchell wrote back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and as great as the TV series was it’s my opinion that the books are even better. The guy was a really fine writer with a wonderful ear for dialogue, and of course David Callan is such a fantastic character as well. Still got a couple more to read too, including the recently published Callan Uncovered, which collects the numerous Callan shorts Mitchell wrote for the Sunday Express and TV Times, so I’m looking forward to diving into those.
Where is your favourite place to read?
I usually read in my office (which also doubles as our bedroom, or is it the other way round?), in the very same chair in which I write every day. It’s a very comfortable chair, it has to be said. But I guess my favourite place to read would be on a chaise-longue under a palm tree on a quiet beach somewhere. Not that I ever do, of course, but a guy can dream.
Can books change lives? If so, which one changed yours?
Well, I think we all know the answer to that one, don’t we? Of course books can change lives and they continue to do so to this day, often in small ways that don’t become obvious to the reader until many years later. Which is how it should be. As for myself, I don’t think there was any one book that got me hooked on the written word; it was more a gradual thing over a long period of time.
Nevertheless, I do remember a formative two week holiday when I was about 13 or 14, spent with my family in a caravan in the South of France. I say formative because there wasn’t a whole lot of entertainment where we were – and certainly no TV – so you simply had to seek out other ways to amuse yourself. And for me, that meant reading matter. Fortunately, an initial recce of the caravan revealed a small shelf in the main living area containing about two dozen well-worn paperbacks. And they seemed to be mostly American paperbacks too, which really piqued my interest. I had thrillers, horrors, melodramas, gothic romances, movie tie-ins, and who knows what else at my fingertips, and over the following fortnight I devoured them all without mercy.
Many of them were pretty awful, of course, even to an undiscerning 13-year-old (a Jaws 2 movie tie-in and an El-cheapo horror, The Hand of Cain, spring immediately to mind, along with that dumb gothic romance thing, whatever it was called), but there were also some real corkers in there too. Like Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin. Now that was a good one. And a John MacDonald Travis McGee, too – though I can’t recall which one it was now (those gimmicky colour-themed titles all kind of blend together, don’t they?). I think there was also an early Stephen King in there as well – probably Carrie – so not a bad little haul for a growing lad, all in all. And I believe it was from that time onwards that I began my lifelong habit of reading anything that came into my immediate orbit, just in case I stumbled across more great authors like Levin, King, and MacDonald.
Anyway, it was a good holiday.
What’s the book you’d choose as your Desert Island read?
Since it’s almost impossible to choose between my two absolute favourites, Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon, I’ll simply cheat and go for the same one Mark Billingham chose when he was asked the same question. The Four Great Novels by Dashiell Hammett is an unbeatable omnibus that collects the two masterpieces mentioned above and throws in The Dain Curse and The Glass Key for good measure. You really get your money’s worth with this baby.
What are you reading now?
I’ve just finished reading the excellent Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan, a meticulously researched historical account of the man which fit right in with my agnostic views on the subject. And I’ve got the latest Joseph Finder thriller – Suspicion – waiting patiently on my Kindle, so that’ll probably be next.
What are your top ten books?
Well, this can change from year to year – or even from month to month – but currently I’d say the following ten books are right up there for me:
- A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin
- Breakout by Richard Stark, AKA Donald Westlake
- Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
- The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
- The Godfather by Mario Puzo
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
- The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
- Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp
- Marathon Man by William Goldman
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
What’s your most treasured book on your bookcase?
Unfortunately I don’t have much in the way of literary collectibles, so I’m kind of letting the side down there, I know. However, I do own a tatty copy of a fairly rare 1962 Spivak paperback from the USA – Woman In The Dark by Dashiell Hammett – which in addition to the title story, gathers together some fairly obscure shorts of his that have rarely been anthologised since. These include his earliest Continental Op stories for Black Mask magazine, and one of those – The Black Hat That Wasn’t There – can only be found in this book, which makes it an absolute must-have for Hammett obsessives like myself.