The best comic crime novels that inspired the best comic crime movies

Who am I?

I’ve made my way in the world as a writer, mostly of TV and movies, mostly of comedy of one stripe or another. As a consumer, though, I’ve always been more drawn to cops and robbers than to material designed primarily to make me laugh. Then, in my 50s, I made an unexpected turn to detective fiction, with a series shaped like traditional, serious mysteries but with satirical undertones and, hopefully, plenty of smiles along the way. My new career made me start thinking more attentively about how comedy and crime worked together, how my work built on what came before, and how it differed from it.


I wrote...

Book cover of Last Looks

What is my book about?

Former LAPD superstar detective Charlie Waldo, paying self-imposed penance for an old case gone horribly wrong, lives deep in the woods as a hermit and minimalist, pathologically committed to owning no more than one hundred things. But after the girlfriend he left behind tracks him down and disrupts his solitude, he finds himself dragged back to Hollywood to investigate a narcissistic and belligerent television star, who, in a blackout drunk, may or may not have killed his wife. 

The first three installments of the Charlie Waldo series, of which this is the debut, have been nominated for Shamus Awards by the Private Eye Writers of America. The movie version of Last Looks stars Charlie Hunnam and Mel Gibson, and is directed by Tim Kirkby.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Hot Rock

Howard Michael Gould Why did I love this book?

Westlake was already a bestselling author of hard-boiled tales of a career criminal named Parker when he created that antihero’s lighter flip side, John Dortmunder, whose compatriots, capers, and consequences all come with some goofy, left-handed conceptual spin. The rock in the title is a famous African emerald, which Dortmunder and his mates set out to boost, only to find themselves having to steal the same gem a second time, and a third—eventually six heists, in all, from progressively impossible fortresses and in progressively outrageous ways. I’m inspired by the whole Dortmunder series’ blend of laugh-out-loud character pieces and genuinely inventive crime writing, and obviously I’m far from alone.

By Donald E. Westlake,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Hot Rock as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Edgar Award Finalist: A comical crime caper “filled with action and imagination” (The New York Times Book Review).
 John Dortmunder leaves jail with ten dollars, a train ticket, and nothing to make money on but his good name. Thankfully, his reputation goes far. No one plans a caper better than Dortmunder. His friend Kelp picks him up in a stolen Cadillac and drives him away from Sing-Sing, telling a story of a $500,000 emerald that they just have to steal. Dortmunder doesn’t hesitate to agree. The emerald is the crown jewel of a former British colony, lately granted independence and…


Book cover of Quick Change

Howard Michael Gould Why did I love this book?

Like Dortmunder, Grimm is an idea man, and his idea for the perfect bank robbery is a doozy: he’ll dress as a clown, hold all the workers and customers in the vault, shoot out the video cameras, negotiate with the cops, take off the clown suit and makeup, “release” himself and his two accomplices as “hostages,” and waltz out of the bank and right past the entire NYPD. The only problem is, getting out of the city proves a lot harder than getting out of the bank. Cronley owes a lot to Westlake, but I picked Quick Change because he repays that debt and then some, with a smirking wit that lights up every page. 

By Jay Cronley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Quick Change as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Grimm was the only one in town who knew he had them where he wanted them - overconfident."" The hero of Quick Change is just twenty minutes into a bank robbery, and so far everything is going according to his brilliant, meticulously thought-out plan. The bank's employees and customers are in the vault, the security cameras have all been shot out, and he's bagged close to a million dollars. But the police and a SWAT team are already outside. Can Grimm get out of the bank and out of New York, with the money and his two accomplices, and pull…


Book cover of The Player

Howard Michael Gould Why did I love this book?

Tolkin doesn’t hit you with belly laughs so much as tickle the upper corners of your mind with his knowing take on the mores and follies of the Hollywood of the late 1980s. (Of special interest to me, as that’s the moment I arrived there to begin my own TV and film career.) The trenchant satire is exemplified by the crime at its center: studio exec Griffin Mill, badgered by threats from some anonymous screenwriter he’s mistreated, focuses his attention on a different C-list scribe and winds up strangling him to death. Get it?  In a business full of writer-killing executives, Tolkin’s big-wig antihero literally kills a writer.

By Michael Tolkin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Player as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Griffin Mill is senior vice president of production at a Hollywood studio. Obsessed with his career, dedicated to his success and riveted by paranoia, he is the ultimate player. But now he is in trouble. He has been getting postcards from a writer he rejected, who threatens to kill him.


Book cover of The Big Sleep

Howard Michael Gould Why did I love this book?

Most don’t think “comedy” when they think of Chandler, but I include his debut here to honor the sly wit behind the hard-boiled PI voice Chandler famously invented. Before him, nobody wrote sentences like, Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead, but after him, every crime writer wanted a sprinkle of that. Of course, Chandler’s the all-time, undisputed champion of the simile, so adroit, so confident, that it’s okay if sometimes it feels like he’s playing beyond our grasp. She was as sore as an alderman with the mumps—what could that even mean? Beats me, but it’s enough to trust that Chandler knows, and somehow I’m smiling.  

By Raymond Chandler,

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked The Big Sleep as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Raymond Chandler's first three novels, published here in one volume, established his reputation as an unsurpassed master of hard-boiled detective fiction.

The Big Sleep, Chandler's first novel, introduces Philip Marlowe, a private detective inhabiting the seamy side of Los Angeles in the 1930s, as he takes on a case involving a paralysed California millionaire, two psychotic daughters, blackmail and murder.

In Farewell, My Lovely, Marlowe deals with the gambling circuit, a murder he stumbles upon, and three very beautiful but potentially deadly women.

In The High Window, Marlowe searches the California underworld for a priceless gold coin and finds himself…


Book cover of Out Of Sight

Howard Michael Gould Why did I love this book?

Leonard’s the essential master of comedy-crime, full stop, so facile with the blend that he makes it look like he isn’t even trying. Here he conjures a charmingly impossible romance between gentleman bank robber Jack Foley and U.S. Marshal Karen Cisco, borne of an unplanned rideshare in a car trunk during a prison break gone sideways. Is this Leonard’s greatest novel, or does it just seem that way because it yielded far the best of his many adaptations? (Appropriate, by the way, for a book with the movies on its mind.) It’s no slight to director Steven Soderbergh or screenwriter Scott Frank to say that much of their magic was in knowing when to stay out of the maestro’s way.

By Elmore Leonard,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Out Of Sight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

OUT OF SIGHT was made into the highly-acclaimed movie starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez.

Jack Foley was busting out of Florida's Glades Prison when he ran head-on into Karen Sisco with a shotgun. Suddenly the world-class gentleman felon was sharing a cramped car trunk with a disarmed federal marshal - whose Chanel suit cost more than the take from Foley's last bank job - and the chemistry was working overtime. Here's a lady Jack could fall for in a big way, if she weren't a dedicated representative of the law that he breaks for a living. And as soon…


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The Constant Tower

By Carole McDonnell,

Book cover of The Constant Tower

Carole McDonnell Author Of Wind Follower

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Armchair anthropologist Asian drama addict Christian Perseverer

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Plus, Carole's 10, and 12-year-old's favorite books.

What is my book about?

This is a multicultural epic fantasy with a diverse cast of characters. Sickly fifteen-year-old Prince Psal, the son of warrior-king Nahas, should have been named Crown Prince of all Wheel Clan lands. But his clan disdains the disabled.

When the mysterious self-moving towers that keep humans safe from the Creator's ancient curse rebel, Psal attempts to find the Constant Tower and break the power of the third moon. Psal must risk losing the little respect his father has for him and face the dangers of the unmaking night to find the Constant Tower and save all of humanity.

The Constant Tower

By Carole McDonnell,

What is this book about?

Sickly fifteen year old Prince Psal, the son of the nature-blessed warrior-king Nahas, should have been named Crown Prince of all Wheel Clan lands. A priest-physician like his friend Ephan, Psal lacks a warrior's heart, yet he desires to earn Nahas's respect and become a clan chief. If he cannot do this, he must escape his clan altogether. But his love for Cassia, the daughter of his father's enemy, and his own weaknesses work against him. When war comes, Psal defends Ktwala and her daughter Mahari, wronged by Nahas, and speaks out against the atrocities his clan commits, further jeopardizing…


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