Friday, May 24, 2019

For my old man

By Abir

Father’s day is a special day. A day of love for the man who was probably one of the most important formative influences on your life. For many of us, especially boys and men, our father’s approval means a lot, possibly even too much. My own father, to whom my first novel was dedicated, passed away a few years ago, just before that novel was published. He knew it was coming, but didn’t live to see it in print. So for me, there’s a special poignancy to the subject of my dad and books. Here are some crime classics, I wish I’d been able to share with my dad.

Laidlaw – William McIlvanney

Glasgow was home-made ginger biscuits and Jennifer Lawson dead in the park.”

My dad left sunny India and chose to make his home in Glasgow, Scotand and there’s a special place in my heart for this book. In my opinion, it’s one the finest works of crime fiction ever written, and was the rock upon which most of the great Scottish crime fiction of the last thirty years has been built. McIlvaney’s detective, Laidlaw, is hunting the killer of a teenage girl from one of the rougher parts of Glasgow. But the book is no ordinary crime novel - the reader is introduced to the killer early on – rather it is an exploration of the dark side of human nature. It’s also a love song to the city of Glasgow and its uniqueness and its contradictions. Finally, there’s the wonderful imagery which McIlvaney imbues throughout the book. No matter how many times I read it, I always find some turn of phrase that stops me in my tracks.

Doors Open – Ian Rankin

I’m a huge fan of Ian Rankin and have read all of the Rebus books. However it’s one of his stand-alone books, Doors Open, which is one of the novels that inspired me to write. It tells of how a gang of ordinary guys (albeit one of them’s a millionaire) set out to steal a number of paintings. The plot is inspired and the twist in the tail is fantastic. In many ways, it’s the perfect crime. I rather hoped Mr Rankin would write a sequel to it, but he hasn’t yet.  

A Quiet Flame – Philip Kerr

 Philip Kerr was one of my favourite writers. His character, Bernie Gunther, an investigator in Nazi Germany and in the post war period, is a brilliant creation. I love novels with an ambiguous, conflicted protagonist, and for me, Bernie Gunther is the gold standard. All of the Gunther novels are excellent and I’ve been hooked since I picked up his Berlin Noir Trilogy more than a decade ago. 

My favourite though, is A Quiet Flame, in which Bernie finds himself in post war Argentina, alongside a bunch of unsavoury characters including Adolf Eichmann. Bernie is tasked with hunting down a serial killer targeting young girls in a method very similar to another crime he investigated back in Berlin.

Gorky Park – Martin Cruz Smith

To me this book is a real classic. It is the first of Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko novels, and still my favourite. Set in the late Cold War period, Renko is chief investigator for the Moscow Militsiya, who is assigned to a case involving three corpses found in Gorky Park, who have had their faces and fingertips cut off by the murderer to prevent identification.

I first read this book when I was still at school and I thought it was brilliant. It’s the novel that first piqued my interest in the sub-genre of good detectives upholding a corrupt system, and it’s one of the few books I’ve read several times.

The Byomkesh Bakshi stories -  Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay

Not so much any one book, but a whole series of stories this time. Byomkesh Bakshi is an Indian detective created in the 1930s by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. Byomkesh is India’s answer to Sherlock Holmes, though he prefers the term ‘Seeker of Truth’ to ‘detective’. The stories are set in Calcutta and have been Indian favourites for generations. 

I’m sure my father would have read and enjoyed these novels as a boy, and I’ll make sure my own sons read them. I like to think there’s a sense of continuity in that.

Killing Floor – Lee Child

More than anyone else, it was Lee Child who inspired me to write. I was running late one morning and caught an interview with Lee Child on breakfast TV. He recounted how, having never really written before, he’d started writing at the age of forty. I’d never read any of his work till then, but I went out that day and bought a copy of his first book, Killing Floor, and devoured it within forty-eight hours. I was amazed at how simply written and well plotted it was. I’d recently had an idea for a story centered on a British detective who travels to India after the First World War, and reading Killing Floor gave me the motivation to put pen to paper.

So there we are. Books I wish I'd been able to share with my dad, because doing so would have given him a better insight into his son, and that would have brought us closer.

1 comment:

Susan C Shea said...

Thanks, Abir. A few more books to read because of your observations and what you took from them. A couple I know about and have read - Ian Rankin and Lee Child - but not the others. Are the Indian books in English?