Books to Die For
John Connolly, Declan Burke
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". . .a rare and compelling collection . . ."
“Books to Die For” is a book you can’t live without. Mystery authors John Connolly and Declan Burke have compiled an anthology of the world’s greatest mystery writers and asked them to select their favorite story or novel and explain why each venerates it.
The 119 contributors from 20 countries in their analysis identify specific distinctions between “mystery fiction,” “crime fiction,” and “literary novel.” The selections range from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Dupin Tales (1841) and Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (1859) to Mark Gimenez’s The Perk (2008).
An example essay offered by Michael Robotham is on Scandinavian Peter Høeg’s first and only mystery novel, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, a book that gained internationally popularity, Robotham believes Høeg never wrote another crime fiction because he didn’t consider this genre “true literature.” But Robotham sees this masterpiece as more than a mystery. He says Høeg dwelled deep into cultural issues, Denmark’s history and society that was “trapped between two fractured worlds–one wealthy and ordered, and the other chaotic and beautiful.”
The reader gets an opportunity to explore again or for the first time notable books through the eyes of recognized mystery specialists who provide unique insight into the “best in the world.” Swedish novelist and criminal defense lawyer Jen Lapidus selected Edward Bunker’s 1997 novel, The Animal Factory, because it doesn’t end when the crime is solved, but rather offers insight into society at it treats a captured criminal. Bunker as the youngest-ever inmate in San Quentin Prison, created his protagonist based on his own experiences.
Mark Bellingham and David Peace claimed they were most influenced by Dashiell Hammett, proclaimed the “father of modern American mystery,” and author of The Maltese Falcon (1930) and The Glass Key (1931). The essays reflect on Hammett’s harassment, prison time and blacklisting for refusing to cooperate with the “so-called McCarthy hearings.” It is no surprise Hammett’s plot involved political corruption and friendship.
Of course, the anthology includes familiar authors of detective stories such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote the series on Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie. But there is also a nice surprise, that some literary classics such as Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca fall under the mystery genre.
Burke and Connolly have produced a rare and compelling collection of works meant as a guide, but is so rich it is difficult to skip any of them and choose one particular essay as a singular favorite.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla