This Christmas we’ve decided to make your present buying a lot less stressful by asking the 4th Estate team to hand-pick books for all your relatives. Hopefully this will mean less umming and ahhing in the bookshop, and more oohing and ahhing on Christmas Day…
He’s always been troublesome but recently his habits have strayed dangerously close to a life of petty crime – stealing your things, breaking your things, scaring you, annoying you, bothering you when you’ve just sat down to work/relax/eat/sleep and generally making life unbearable. And when he’s not practicing criminal behaviour he’s obsessed with others’ – looking through your bins, your neighbour’s bins, crawling round the garden in search of…what?…and why again? What he needs is some dense and gripping crime fiction to calm his wayward ways (or shut him up for a little bit at least) and engage powers of deduction…
As the commonplace book of detective stories, this is the perfect place to begin for any crime enthusiast (and even if they’ve read them they’ve probably forgotten some of them) – Conan Doyle’s crisp prose and enthralling plots, each blissfully condensed to a short story, will grab your brother’s attention immediately. Holmes – the grandfather of misanthropic geniuses and Watson – the godfather of faithful narrators are the perfect Christmas duo.
Swap the upper-class snobbish Holmes for a different kind of genius and you get the mad figure of Swanton Morely – borne of working class roots and making his name through his insatiable lust for facts and prolific published material on everything from animal husbandry to mineralogy (and his own children’s version of The Bible), he is the ‘people’s professor’. His sidekick, ghost-writer and our narrator – another wounded soldier like Watson – carefully plots the story, through a series of mishaps and adventures. This is cosy crime at its best and will keep your brother indoor for sure. Absorbing, funny, and highly intelligent it’s the perfect Christmas read. And then, to brighten up the bleak and sober January days, he can return to Sansom’s first two in the ‘County Guide’ series, The Norfolk Mystery and Death in Devon….
Get away from the fireside of cosy crime and onto the grimy streets of hard-boiled. Chandler offers coming-of-age kind of crime fiction, whereby, leaving boyhood behind, ‘down these mean streets a man must go’, facing up to the inherent evil in the world. Chandler creates a new type of ‘hero’, someone inherently honourable, someone who is ‘the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world’ – and that man is Philip Marlowe. This weathered figure, long exposed to the turbulent winds of the world, exudes a wisdom and cynicism that will quench and quell your brother’s thirst for the thrill of criminal behaviour. Through his sparse, Hemmingway-style prose, Chandler creates a glamorous world of booze, drugs, dance-halls and disillusionment – like with The Great Gatsby it is both a world of which you want and don’t want to be a part. Fatalistic and effortlessly cool, this book will leave a lasting impression on your brother.
One of the inventors of crime fiction and a pioneer of the short story, Poe combines narrative excellence with formal refinement to create stories that are gripping, dense and meticulous. His attention to detail – his scrupulously designed settings and almost neurotic predilection for scientific specifics – will appeal to your brother’s own calculated tendencies. In his detective, C. Auguste Dupin, he showcases those talents and inclinations that would go on to inform Conan Doyle’s and Christie’s equally genius and despairing Holmes and Poirot. This methodical man engages in the process of, what Poe himself referred to as, ‘ratiocination’ when solving crime, establishing, for generations to come, the use of logic as the detective’s greatest weapon. Poe’s collection features the first locked room mystery – the most tantalizing and tormenting of crime fiction plots – embedded in the dire streets of nineteenth century Paris. This sordid world is sliced open, its darkest entrails spilling out, with a precision and delicacy that is itself impressive – both mystery and resolution will shock your brother.
Fforde’s weird, wonderful and whacky world will turn your little brother’s upside down – combining the genre of crime with a love of all literature he creates a parallel 1985, set in the dangerous streets of Swindon, and patrolled by the formidable literary detective, Thursday Next. In Fforde’s novel the crimes committed blur the boundary between violence and literature (you may not have realised how closely associated they are), as characters from other great works, and their maniacal fan base, do not always follow the path written out for them. It is Next’s job to maintain the authenticity of literature – questioning endings, tailing characters, and preventing the militant government from having to strong an influence. Highly entertaining and narratively sound, this novel offers a bizarre and thorough introduction into the world of literature and will captivate your brother from the start.
In the recent years Scandinavia has picked up the crime fiction mantle and redesigned it, sparking an international obsession for this icy cool product. In fact, Scandinavia’s influence on the genre goes far further back than Steig Larsson or The Killing to Sjowall and Wahloo’s debut novel, Roseanna. Here the foundations are laid for what makes such literature so great – it is thrilling, chilling and beautifully written. Set in Sweden on the Göta Canal, it involves an intricate plot that isn’t easily solved – the law’s ethical principles are balanced against the greater good as the detective, Martin Beck, tussles with his frustration. This novel will engage your brother fully, and expose the messy and frayed strings that make up crime and crime fiction – not easily tied up.
Words by Madeleine Dunnigan.