Inspiration comes in many forms. For the crime writers whose essays form the elegant Books to Die For, that inspiration comes from other authors.
Irish authors John Connolly and Declan Burke have assembled 119 top-notch authors from 20 countries to discuss which writers’ words encouraged them to become storytellers. Each of the anthology’s thoughtful essays shows us why an author’s work inspires — and displays a little insight into the essayist who was inspired. The contemporary authors also put in historical context the crime fiction genre, the authors and the eras in which they wrote, which range from the mid-1800s to just a couple of years ago.
For Michael Connelly, it began with a viewing at his college’s student union of the Robert Altman film The Long Goodbye, based on Raymond Chandler’s novel. Connelly, whose 20th novel The Black Box comes out in November, left the film a fan and soon devoured each of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels. The Little Sister with its evocative descriptions of Los Angeles continues to inspire: “In four pages Chandler teaches reader and writer what it is to write for the ages. What it is to create art.”
In turn, Connelly’s 1992 Edgar Award-winning The Black Echo inspired co-editor Connolly who calls it “a stunningly accomplished piece of work.” Canadian Linwood Barclay ( Trust Your Eyes) cites Ross Macdonald’s The Goodbye Look as he discusses a correspondence and one dinner meeting with the creator of Lew Archer. Barclay was just 20 years old at the time, and he has never forgotten Macdonald’s kindness.
A revealing essay on the maturation of an idea comes from Joseph Wambaugh, who credits meeting Truman Capote with influencing the then-young cop to write The Onion Field.
Laura Lippman chooses James M. Cain’s “criminally obscure” Love’s Lovely Counterfeit. Karin Slaughter’s praise of The Dead Letter, by Metta Fuller Victor, also is an impassioned look at how often women writers have been ignored through the generations.
Inspiration knows no geographical boundaries. San Franciscan Kelli Stanley and British Lauren Henderson both honor Agatha Christie. Dashiell Hammett gets a nod from Mark Billingham, who lives in London, and David Peace, who resides in Japan. Americans Sara Paretsky and Rita Mae Brown choose Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Miami’s James W. Hall, who writes the Thorn series, found a kinship in Elmore Leonard’s LaBrava, also set in Miami Beach.
Books to Die For is a sumptuous exploration of some of the best mystery authors of our time that showcases their passion for writing and their heartfelt tributes to their fellow writers. It’s is a resource readers will want to keep for decades.
Oline Cogdill reviewed this book for The Sun Sentinel.