Crime novels I have read in three (or fewer) sittings by Matthew Pritchard
Novelist Phillip Roth says that if you take longer than two weeks to read a novel, you haven’t really read it – a statement with which I agree. Developing upon this idea, I think the hallmark of a great novel is when you blast through the thing in three or fewer sittings, your eyes flickering towards the bottom of each page in your desperation to find out what happens next. Here are five that have elicited that response from me.
Dashiell Hammett – The Dain Curse
Although The Maltese Falcon is his most famous work, this is my favourite of Hammett’s books. This 1929 novel represents the second outing for the Continental Op, the nameless private eye who gave birth to the hardboiled genre in all its tough-as-nails, wisecracking glory. The novel focuses on a wealthy family and a curse that supposedly causes those around them to meet with violent deaths. Hammett uses this premise to weave a tale of murder, robbery, drug addiction and a strange religious cult. Like all great books, the story seems amazingly contemporary considering it was written nearly 90 years ago.
Raymond Chandler – Farewell, My Lovely
From the opening description of the novel’s antagonist, Moose Malloy, looking ‘about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake’, this book represents Phillip Marlowe at his cynical-yet-human best. The novel takes the reader on a journey through the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles as Marlowe follows the trail of death and destruction that man-mountain Malloy, in search of his ex-girlfriend, leaves in his wake. Despite the novel’s violence, the ending is surprisingly poignant.
Elmore Leonard – Pronto
This is the book that gave the world U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (the central character in the TV series Justified) and follows a crooked bookie on the run from the mob. The action switches between the USA and Italy, and like many of Leonard’s books, most of the story is told from the perspective of criminals rather than those who are trying to catch them. Pronto is packed full of the writer’s trademark sparkling characterisation and razor-sharp dialogue and also manages to weave in some fascinating anecdotes about the poet, Ezra Pound, and his post-WW2 arrest and incarceration.
James Ellroy – LA Confidential
This book stood unread on my shelf for years. I’d seen the film at least five times and couldn’t really see how the book could improve upon it. How wrong I was. The reason the film is so good is because the book is utterly brilliant, a master class in quality crime writing. The story is told from three character’s perspectives and tumbles out in Ellroy’s beautifully succinct prose, which manages to capture the post-war era perfectly.
Ian Rankin – Black and Blue
This is another book that sat on my shelf for a long time, mainly due to my aversion to most of the Rolling Stones’s music post-Exile On Main Street. But what was a rather lacklustre album for the Stones turned out to be my favourite of the many John Rebus books, and the only title on this list that was read in a single sitting (or rather lying, as I was snugly tucked up in bed for most of it). Rankin takes the real life Bible John serial murders and weaves a fantastic tale that takes Rebus to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, while fighting off media speculation about his involvement in an alleged miscarriage of justice.
Matthew Pritchard worked as a journalist in southern Spain for ten years, and based his first novel, Scarecrow, on his experiences there. His second novel, Werewolf, is a historical thriller set in Germany in the immediate aftermath of WWII.
His latest book, Broken Arrow, is published by Salt Publishing on November 15th, 2015, and is based on a real-life nuclear accident that saw the United States Air Force drop three H-bombs onto mainland Spain.
Pritchard’s books are known for the punchy, compelling nature of their prose and for the meticulous research that underpins them. His favourite crime authors are Ian Rankin, Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler. His blog can be found at www.matthewpritchard.net