Award-winning author of The Good Thief’s Guide to … books Chris Ewan joins the Faber Crime list next month with Safe House, a turbo-charged psychological thriller. Like all good exponents of the crime genre, Chris has his heroes – but who’s in his top five?
In 2001, I was travelling through America, trying to write a novel about Jack Kerouac and On the Road. I ended up in New Orleans in high August. It was too hot to do much of anything except read, and I found my way to a second-hand bookshop in the French Quarter. I couldn’t decide what I was in the mood for, so I asked the guy behind the counter for a recommendation. He handed me a frayed copy of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. A pencil note in the inside cover tells me it cost me three dollars. Best investment I ever made.
Sitting on a sun-baked, ironwork bench in Jackson Square, I read the opening of the novel that made me want to be a crime writer. “The first time I laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith outside the terrace of The Dancers.” I became drunk, too. Giddy on Chandler’s laconic, tough-guy prose. His wit. His style. The noble thanklessness of Marlowe’s mission.
Talking of New Orleans, I suppose it’s only fitting that I was soon hooked on the Dave Robicheaux novels of James Lee Burke. Robicheaux is that rare thing – a hero every bit as real to me as my memories of the Louisiana swamplands that Burke evokes so vividly. Robicheaux is a decent man, plagued by his own demons and weaknesses, but driven by a powerful moral code that reached its creative apotheosis when Burke tackled the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina in The Tin Roof Blowdown. Add to that Burke’s lyrical narrative style and haunting imagery, and you have a truly intoxicating series.
From a good guy, to the best of the bad. I can’t deny the sinister pull of that charismatic, amoral schemer, Tom Ripley. I’ve relished every volume of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripliad, but my favourite remains The Talented Mr Ripley. I read it pretty much every year, marvelling at Highsmith’s elegant prose, the measured way in which she ratchets up tension, and her beautifully rendered sense of place. Italy. The sun, heat and glamour. Dangerous obsession. It’s a classic that always rewards a return visit.
Being a Chandler fan, I suppose it was inevitable that I’d fall hard for the work of Megan Abbott. Abbott’s first four novels (Die a Little, The Song is You, Queenpin and Bury Me Deep) re-explored the noir tradition from a female perspective, while her two more recent works, The End of Everything and Dare Me, have revelled in the dark heart of girlhood and adolescence. What sets Abbott apart, for me, is her fresh and innovative prose style, her capacity to hint at emotions and motives while leaving room to interpret more, and her utter fearlessness when it comes to getting at the marrow of her characters’ lives, not to mention throwing the reader off-kilter with a gut-punch ending.
I’ll finish with a mention for my favourite standalone thriller, Tell No One by Harlan Coben. It features tight, lean writing, a perfectly calibrated balance of humour and suspense, a quicksilver pace, and some devilish plotting. It’s an object lesson in how to make the nice-guy hero into a compelling lead, plus it was adapted into the cool and stylish French movie of the same name – and endorsements don’t get much better than that.
Chris Ewan is the award-winning author of The Good Thief’s Guide to … series of mystery novels. His debut, The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam, won the Long Barn Books First Novel Award and is published in 10 countries, and Amsterdam, Paris and Vegas have all been shortlisted for CrimeFest’s Last Laugh Award. Safe House, published this August, is his first novel with Faber. More at www.chrisewan.com.
‘Ewan has added a sprinkling of edible gold dust and elevated the everyman thriller into a compelling, contemporary read . . .’ SJ Bolton