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My Favourite Crime Novels: A book list chosen by Aoife Clifford

Aoife Clifford, crime writer and purveyor of immaculate reading taste, has adorned Better Reading with a list of her favourite crime novels. Her first book All These Perfect Strangers was an immediate success. Fellow Aussie thriller writer Jane Harper claimed the book left ‘the reader constantly guessing what’s around the corner, and her cleverly woven plot shines a harsh spotlight on the question of whether the past can truly be left behind.’ 

Words || Aoife Clifford

My love affair with crime fiction began when I was ten and discovered the work of Agatha Christie at the local library. Always popular, you had to wait weeks only to discover that someone had ripped out the last few pages of the book. Applying my ‘little grey cells’ to the problem, I realised that people hadn’t been browsing in the Large Print Section where there was a complete set and happily read my way through all of them.

I don’t tend to read crime fiction while I’m writing it, so holidays and in between novels is when I catch up on what’s new and reread the classics. This year I’ve written a few articles about Australian crime fiction for overseas audiences, so for this list I thought I’d reverse that idea and write about my favourite overseas crime fiction for an Australian audience.

Series

It is such a joy to become acquainted with a character, knowing they will return in other books. My favourite detective series is Bernie Gunther by Philip Kerr. So far there are 12 books in the series beginning with March Violets published in 1989. If you like historical novels and authors such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet, then Bernie Gunther, ex-Berlin cop and private eye, is for you. I’d start with Berlin Noir, which is a one-volume trilogy of the first three books in the series.

In Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series lead characters in one novel will make cameos as minor players in another. Set in Ireland in the present day, the books explore contemporary issues of Irish society such as the recent financial collapse and ghost housing estates in Broken Harbour. My favourite is her first novel In the Woods but they are all vividly written with flawed, interesting characters that pull you into their lives. She’s the type of writer that warrants a special trip to the bookshop when a new book comes out.

Pierre Lemaitre wrote his first detective novel at the age of 55. He has written a series of books featuring Commandant Camille Verhoeven. Translated from French, his writing is exciting and challenging. Irene, his first novel, involves a serial killer who borrows his methods of killing from crime authors, such as James Ellroy and Bret Easton Ellis. Alex, my favourite, is a rollercoaster ride with twists and turns.

My favourite books of famous authors

James Ellroy, the ‘demon dog of American crime fiction’, is the master of the staccato sentence. I’m not a fan of his early work and find some of his later work a bit patchy but when writing L.A.Confidential the story goes that his editor asked him to remove 100 pages from the book and rather than remove subplots, Ellroy just took out every unnecessary word from each sentence. Whether that’s what happened I’m not sure, but the book is brilliant.

Strangers on a Train is Patricia Highsmith at her best. A fantastic premise that two strangers, both thinking about killing someone, meet and one proposes that they trade murders because they’d never be suspected. It was been a Hitchcock movie, radio play and a theatrical production. Currently, David Fincher and Gillian Flynn are currently working on a remake.

Did our love affair with Scandi noir begin with Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Danish author Peter Hoeg? Henning Mankell, no slouch in the Scandi crime world, said it was the book he wished he had written. Published in 1992, it is an international bestseller. Powered by its formidable main character, Miss Smilla, who wants to solve the murder of her six year old neighbour. It’s a book I intend to reread this summer along with picking up his latest, The Susan Effect.


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