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CrimeSquad.com
Cathi Unsworth, author of Without the Moon shows us her own personal Top Ten!


1. The Man With The Golden Arm - Nelson Algren
Canongate £9.99

"The story of World War II veteran Frankie ‘Machine’ Majcinek, ace jazz drummer, poker dealer and morphine addict, introduced to the world the phrase ‘monkey on my back’, which Nelson himself learned from a girlfriend who was on the game. Dastardly Otto Preminger ruined Nelson’s name in Hollywood with his wrong-headed movie adaptation, which, despite the genius of Elmer Bernstein’s soundtrack and Frank Sinatra’s lead performance, is best left alone. Nelson’s book is something else: a mesmeric elegy to the night denizens of late Forties Chicago’s jazz clubs, pool halls and drunk tanks, written in beat-perfect street poetry that was honed over decades of living what he wrote. As even Ernest Hemingway was forced to admit: ‘Mr Algren – boy, are you good’."

2. L.A. Confidential - James Ellroy
Cornerstone £8.99

"Curtis Hanson’s film representation of this was the opposite of Preminger’s and to me is the greatest ever transition of a crime novel to the screen. But it still comes nowhere near the audacious scope of this epic pop history – which is perhaps unsurprising when you consider that what Hollywood excised was the plot line about a child-abusing movie mogul famous for his cartoon creation Moochie Mouse and Dream-a-Dreamland theme park… This is the American Dream as a towering monument to hubris and lies and the peak of all the Demon Dog’s considerable achievements, a retelling of America’s story through the lens of crime fiction changed the game of the entire genre."

3. I Was Dora Suarez - Derek Raymond
Profile £7.99

"The book that made me want to be a crime writer, and the writer who I wanted to be. Derek Raymond’s London, on the cusp between the Eighties and Nineties and ‘scoured by vile psychic weather’ was the evocation of Margaret Thatcher’s curse: ‘There is no such thing as society’. But his nameless Detective Sergeant’s quest to reclaim the soul of murdered Dora Suarez burns through the miasmas with the intensity of its compassion and righteous fury. ‘The tragedy of help is that it never arrives…’"

4. Hangover Square - Patrick Hamilton
Penguin £9.99

"After Derek Raymond’s death, a similarly bereft friend introduced me to Patrick Hamilton, a kindred spirit from decades before, who painted Thirties London in dark shades of disturbed minds, none so perfectly executed as the tale of John Harvey Bone, resident of the titular square in Earl’s Court, where ‘those who God has forgotten’ – a motley collection of seedy bohemian artists, actors and budding fascists – reside on snide asides and cheap gin. No one writes about psychopathy with quite such chilling accuracy as Hamilton — perhaps because he knew too much of what he wrote – except, maybe…"

5. The Killer Inside Me - Jim Thompson
Orion £8.99

"Hamilton’s American counterpart was the equally hard-drinking Jim Thompson, whose very childhood was a merger of fact and fiction. With his father continually absent, prospecting for oil and other futile get-rich-quick schemes, 13-year-old Jim supported his family by becoming a hotel porter and roving news reporter, frequently making up crime stories with the help of his sister and mother, who would pose as victims for photographs. The cumulative effect of these years brought forth this, the very definition of noir, in which the reader is tested on just how far their personal sympathy for the Devil will stretch…"

6. The Knockout Artist - Harry Crews
£0

"When I wrote Weirdo, it was my attempt to write a book like Harry Crews, for the ideas his work has instilled in me over the last two decades have had lasting repercussions on my own. There have been many great books set in the Big Easy. “Other than the city of New Orleans,” this one begins, “nothing in this book is real.” But, the story of glass-jawed boxer Eugene Biggs’ descent from hopeful contender to underworld fetish object, abetted by beautiful she-male, Jake Purcell and pervert tycoon, J Alfred ‘Oyster Boy’ Blasingame, feels like nothing but the truth. Crews reveals the real freaks of this world with the verisimilitude of one who has lived it."

7. Nineteen Seventy-Seven - David Peace
Profile £7.99

"If I have to pick just one book from the ‘Red Riding Quartet’ then it has to be the one in which the two sevens clash and the Yorkshire Ripper is baptised by crime fiction’s most haunting and haunted journalist, Jack Whitehead. (Which bewilderingly, is the one that Channel 4 left out of their three-part adaptation.) David Peace always told me that the only way to tell the truth was by writing fiction, but when the quartet first came out it was hard to believe the scale of corruption West Yorkshire Police presided over and seemingly got away with. Now we can plainly see that these books represent an exorcism that was long overdue."

8. The Long Firm - Jake Arnott
Hodder £8.99

"Just as David Peace gave us the secret history of the north, so Jake Arnott was making the links between the great, the glamorous and the gangsters who ran London from the Sixties to the Nineties in his brilliantly executed trio of ‘The Long Firm’, ‘He Kills Coppers’ and ‘truecrime’. What I find particularly astonishing with Jake is his mastery of so many diverse voices, through which his characters come to such vivid life, always coupled to the razor sharpness of his wit. Although my favourite of all his books is probably ‘The Devil’s Paintbrush’, this is on the list because it represents to me something really important in the history of crime fiction."

9. London Belongs To Me - Norman Collins
Penguin £10.99

"This came as a revelation to me. The interweaving stories of the residents of one boarding house in Kennington through the duration of World War II, it was the first time I had encountered a soap opera technique in book form, although I have since discovered that this was a popular way of doing things in the Forties. Collins’ writing is so engaging and the London he traverses so fascinating that he makes light work of 700 pages. And with characters as delicious as the fake medium Henry Squales, ageing club hostess Connie Coke, hapless wide boy Percy Boon and shady landlady Mrs Vizzard, it was a book I never wanted to end."

10. King Dido - Alexander Baron
Five Leaves £9.99

"To almost come back to the beginning, I had always thought that Nelson Algren was my favourite author. Then I discovered his London counterpart, Alexander Baron. They shared similar backgrounds as the sons of Eastern European Jewish immigrants and both served in World War II. Baron’s fictionalised account of his regiment’s journey to Dunkirk ‘From The City, From The Plough’, has been rightly described as WWII’s equivalent to ‘All Quiet on The Western Front’. But this is something else again: a visceral imagining of a poor East End laundry boy’s accidental rise to gang boss in 1911 Bethnal Green that exerts an almost hallucinogenic visual power. So much so that last time I walked down Mile End Road I expected to disappear into this book somewhere near The Blind Beggar – Dido’s story, first published in 1969, has clear echoes of the rise of the Kray twins and their nemesis, Nipper Read. As with ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’, it is a triumph of empathy and evocation, a portal back to a lost world."