The other day I was surprised to see my father reading a book by a well-known author. I don't want to say who, because I know their work and I didn't think it would be my Dad's cup of tea. He had no idea who they were, but thought he'd give it a go. The praise on the side of the back of the book was high... absurdly so. In fact, it's one of my pet peeves in modern literature that the PR gurus really are overpromising on most books. The latest PR line I'd read on this particular book was "One page and you're hooked." It took me a moment to try and digest that. I've never been hooked after a single page. Ever. Not even on any of my favourite books of all time. In fact, a couple of my favourite classics didn't "hook" me until about halfway through. So I find this PR line to be laughable. That said, it did raise a very important point. How do we try to encourage people to read more? Absurd, generic overpromises don't help in my opinion.

I've found in my personal experience that many people who don't read... just can't find something they enjoy reading. They've picked up a bestseller and just not been impressed by it. And why should they? Just because a book sells well or picks up awards does not mean everybody will like it. Nor does it mean that it will be to your individual taste. There's nothing wrong with that. Thanks to the increasing popularity of review systems on books, we're getting savvier about what we pick up. However, how does that help the non-reader who doesn't know where to start looking? (Short answer: it doesn't.)

In my opinion, the solution is simple... and it has worked well for some of my non-reading friends. Don't just recommend them whatever floats YOUR boat. Don't let the industry, that is profit-driven to try and sell as many books as possible, tell them what to read. LISTEN to them and then think: "What would they enjoy reading?" It's so simple, yet we're not doing it. Everywhere I look is lists of X books you need to read before you die. Or the ultimate list of best books this year. No, let's try a different approach. It's easy enough, let's make a list based on the premise "If you liked X, then you might like Y." I've tried this out on friends, some of whom didn't read crime fiction until now. Results aren't 100% but hey... this is a subjective game and people don't tend to get upset at me for trying. So I've put together a list of books that I think are a good recommendation for someone (if they have an interest in a certain area) which might get them into crime fiction. The list is based partly on genres and is not exhaustive... For example, I've skipped out period dramas which would be a great place to recommend some of the golden age "cosy crime."

 

Thriller and suspense

If you're a fan of suspense or thriller movies or such series on the television, then I'd recommend The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. I'd be willing to bet you've probably seen the movie already, but seeing the movie doesn't reduce the impact of the book. Research that Harris did will shine through for anyone who has enjoyed a documentary on real crime/psychopaths/serial killers or the FBI's Behavioural Sciences Unit. He spent years with them during his research of Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. Will Graham is a very likable character in Red Dragon, but The Silence of the Lambs trumps this for me because Clarice Starling is even more endearing. (Particularly because of her interactions with Lecter.) A fast-paced story with a cast of characters who all feel very real - frighteningly so in the case of Lecter - makes this book a serious page-turner. Even when you think that it has to be over and your nerves are shot, that's when Harris puts things into overdrive. Of course some will claim this is a thriller. They have a point (it's actually been classified as thriller, crime and horror,) but I think that is more of a reason in favour of recommending this book. It makes an excellent gateway piece into crime fiction.

 

Comedy

I can hear you thinking "comedy? In crime? Has he lost the plot?" Some would think that seriously allowing A Touch of Frost on any serious police investigation is reasonable grounds to have you sectioned... but that's the joy and the comedy of Frost. The bumbling detective stumbles around from one screw-up to the next in this great example of R.D. Wingfield's cult classic detective. If you hear "Frost" and then think of the television series, please erase that from your mind right now. The books and the television series are nothing alike. In these books, Frost is a lazy, incompetent detective with a morally dubious streak. He'd sooner be stealing his boss's fags and forging his expenses than actually having to do any real police work. The Denton district where Frost seems to constantly find dead bodies is undermanned, underfunded and perpetually out of luck. The humour comes from Frost's self-deprecation and childish antics juxtaposed against the backdrop of serious crimes. The book is something of a hidden masterpiece as Frost lurches from one mistake to the next, poking his fellow officers in the backside and blowing raspberries at his boss, before seeming to accidentally solve his laundry list of cases. The skill required to make this believable should not be underestimated. So if you enjoy a chuckle while you're reading, then this would be an excellent starting point to get you into crime fiction.

 

Horror

Are you one of those people that gets a little rush from that twinge of fear? Or a thrill from your heartbeat increasing with the creepy atmosphere? Then look for your closest copy of the first book in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid. This creepy psychological piece takes a strong stomach to counter your imagination and certainly isn't for the faint hearted. The story of the serial killer flows while you quickly become invested in the odd-couple combination of Tony and Carol. For the fan of horror, the way they slowly explore the mind and madness of the serial killer torturing each victim is likely to leave you looking over your shoulder to make sure you're not next. For me, atmosphere and feeling is key in a horror book, and McDermid is one of the best in crime for creating an atmosphere in your imagination. You'll find with this piece that crime fiction can tweak just as many nerves when the story is presented in the right way. A great way to make the jump.

 

Paranormal or Occult

If you're into the paranormal or the occult, and would like to have a sprinkling of that with your crime... then look no further than Natural Causes by James Oswald. The piece became a self-published hit before it surged further into the stratosphere with his traditional publishing deal. Some fans of crime will say (and it is said in a fair few reader reviews) that the paranormal possibilities have no place in a serious crime fiction story. Ignore those people and dig in if you're already a fan of anything paranormal or occult. Oswald beautifully crafts a story full of emotion with a protagonist that anybody could empathise with. While Inspector McLean investigates the case, it's likely your room will feel a tad chillier than normal. Some scenes could happily be dismissed as an overactive imagination... but hey, what's the fun in that? Strange markings and a hint of dark ritual give way to some chilling scenes that make you wonder whether everything is really what it seems. So, if you enjoy letting your imagination run wild when you feel the room suddenly go cold, or hear an unknown noise... this is probably your best way into crime fiction.

 

Magic

Have you ever watched the latest episode of Dynamo and thought of a darker way to use his magic? You could always pick up Jeffery Deaver's The Vanished Man and see where that takes you. The Lincoln-Rhyme series about the paraplegic forensics expert has been popular for some time. In this instalment, the simple locked room mystery piece suddenly becomes an exciting chase for a villain who has started putting his mastery of the magical performance to deadlier use. If you're still trying to figure out "how on earth did he do that?" then this could be your ideal gateway into crime fiction.

 

Drama

Do you enjoy your serious drama on the television? Then no further argument needs to be made. Grab a copy of Somewhere to Hide by Mel Sherratt and watch the drama unfold in your mind. The Estate series spans three books at the moment, and I always think starting with the first in the series is a good idea. Sherratt's writing is powerful, gritty stuff. It's impossible to avoid getting very attached to certain characters as you watch the drama unfold. Not for the faint hearted, some of the subject matter is quite unpleasant and has left at least one of my friends a little disturbed and upset. Though this just demonstrates the power of the writing all the more. The combination of stories unfolding in Cathy's "safe" house and the heart wrenching sympathy you feel for almost all the characters allows Sherratt to drag you from the edge of your seat to an amazing finale. The realism of the dialogue and the worries of the characters sell the realistic atmosphere. People have mentioned that this should be made into a television drama. They have good reason to say this, so any fans of serious realistic drama on the telly are likely to find this as a great way to sink their teeth into some crime fiction.

 

I have little doubt that I've missed some out. If you mention any good ones in the comments then I'll add them to the list. In the meantime, maybe this has given you an idea for something to read yourself... or hopefully you can recommend some crime to your friends. Share the article with them and maybe they can find something to their taste. You never really know what's going through the mind of the person sitting next to you. Maybe they've got a secret blood lust?

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