The best crime novel characters who transcend the printed word

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Edinburgh and, from an early age, I heard the tale of Deacon Brodie. However, it was not until I was older—when a city official was charged with corruption—that I realised Brodie might just be the first ‘white collar’ criminal in Edinburgh. The more I found out, the more fascinating he became. Here was a man who everyone in the city saw as a wealthy, respectable, Councillor, yet—at the same time—he was a gambler who became a criminal to feed his habit, and so, when I moved to America, I decided to write my first crime novel based on Brodie’s life.


I wrote...

Deacon Brodie: A Double Life

By David Hutchison,

Book cover of Deacon Brodie: A Double Life

What is my book about?

A novel based on the true story of one of Edinburgh’s most infamous sons. 

When respected Councillor, Deacon Brodie, chases his love of gambling, he is drawn into a double life, and soon the respectability of day gives way to a life of crime at night. Betrayed by an accomplice, Brodie escapes to London and is helped to leave for Holland. Eventually captured he is returned to Edinburgh, then faced with a trial before a city where he was once a leading citizen. In court, Brodie is found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, but his closest friend has a different idea and, in full view of everyone, he takes his riskiest gamble yet... his life for the turn of a card.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Laidlaw

David Hutchison Why did I love this book?

If you were to read only one novel on my list, make it Laidlaw by William McIlvanney, the godfather of so-called Tartan Noir. When written, crime fiction was thought of as a lesser form of fiction, but McIlvanney’s lead, Jack Laidlaw, rises from the pages as a complex, very human character, to rival any writer’s protagonist, and is never a stereotype.

Re-reading the novel, at a time when I began writing my first book, it was the delivery of reality within fiction that informed me first, and then I realised that McIlvanney’s secondary characters were not hollow walk-on cast either; they too delivered a reality which was theirs, but which also supported the novel’s lead—a strong lesson in writing characters who are far more than empty cut-outs.

By William McIlvanney,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Laidlaw as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First in “a crime trilogy so searing it will burn forever into your memory. McIlvanney is the original Scottish criminal mastermind” (Christopher Brookmyre, international bestselling author).
 
The Laidlaw novels, a groundbreaking trilogy that changed the face of Scottish fiction, are credited with being the founding books of the Tartan Noir movement that includes authors like Val McDermid, Denise Mina, and Ian Rankin. Says McDermid of William McIlvanney: “Patricia Highsmith had taken us inside the head of killers; Ruth Rendell tentatively explored sexuality; with No Mean City, Alexander McArthur had exposed Glasgow to the world; Raymond Chandler had dressed the darkness…


Book cover of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

David Hutchison Why did I love this book?

Second on my list is Stieg Larson’s creation, Lisbeth Salander, who leapt off the page for me in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the first novel of his Millennium trilogy). Larsson stood by as he witnessed the gang-rape of an acquaintance and, when he wrote his first book (the Swedish title translating into Men Who Hate Women), he used this actual event to conceive Lisbeth. As my list is of characters who can be seen to transcend the printed word, Lisbeth is a superb example, and I would love to write a female lead as strong as her. She is a nemesis but, in Larsson’s skilful hands, she is never a simple one-dimensional creation but a layered one who, when necessary, responds with very human retributive action.

By Stieg Larsson,

Why should I read it?

24 authors picked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder - and that the killer is a member of his own tightly-knit but dysfunctional family.

He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet's disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history.

But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and…


Book cover of A Drink Before the War

David Hutchison Why did I love this book?

Lehane, one of my favourite authors, introduces the crime writer’s device of the duo, in his first Kenzie and Gennaro novel. For me, as in my own DCI Steel novels, the duo in writing can work to inform, or mislead, the reader and, if handled well, the reader doesn’t notice, seeing the interaction between characters as normal. Clichés abound in crime fiction, especially in lead characters, but Lehane avoids this with P.I. Patrick Kenzie, and his lifelong friend, Angie Gennaro. Given the area they inhabit, with its racial and gang tensions, added to the clients they have, clichés would seem unavoidable, but—once again—the lesson here is to write multi-faceted characters, which Kenzie and Gennaro emphatically are. They are flawed, but in Lehane’s hands, triumphantly human, and very believable.

By Dennis Lehane,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Drink Before the War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are tough private investigators who know the blue-collar neighbourhoods and ghettos of Boston's Dorchester section as only natives can. Working out of an old church belfry, Kenzie and Gennaro take on a seemingly simple assignment for a prominent politician: to uncover the whereabouts of Jenna Angeline, a black cleaning woman who has allegedly stolen confidential Statehouse documents.
But finding Jenna proves easy compared to staying alive. The investigation escalates, uncovering a web of corruption extending from bombed-out ghetto streets to the highest levels of state government.

With slick, hip dialogue and a lyrical narrative pocked…


Book cover of Faceless Killers

David Hutchison Why did I love this book?

I had hoped to avoid authors with a prodigious output in this listing, but those author’s characters cannot be missed—Mankell’s Wallander actually carries this novel. The thing that struck me first was how textured the character of Wallander is, and how Mankell fully employs every bit of his backstory. Of course, as before, the cliché of the flawed lead: divorced, few friends, moody, a fondness for drink, and obsessive behaviour, is one which would (too easily) fit Wallander, but not in Mankell’s hands. He takes all these traits and gives the reader an understanding of his lead. On top of that, Mankell uses Wallander for his own observations on Swedish society! For writers Wallander is a study; for readers a joy.

By Henning Mankell, Steven T. Murray (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A #1 international bestseller: This “exquisite novel of mesmerizing depth” launched the acclaimed Wallander Mysteries and BBC series starring Kenneth Branagh (Los Angeles Times).
 
Early one morning, a small-town farmer discovers that his neighbors have been victims of a brutal attack during the night: An old man has been bludgeoned to death, and his tortured wife lies dying before the farmer’s eyes. The only clue is the single word she utters before she dies: “foreign.”
 
In charge of the investigation is Inspector Kurt Wallander, a local detective whose personal life is in a shambles. His family is falling apart, he’s…


Book cover of The Keeper of Lost Causes: The First Department Q Novel

David Hutchison Why did I love this book?

The effect of Scandinavian crime writing has been far-reaching and, to my mind, one aspect that has helped its growth has been the addition of psychological aspects in the characters and—in a very particular sense—the response to this from the reader. I feel I’ve learned more of this deeper level from the writings of Adler-Olsen, particularly his Department Q novels with their lead, Detective Carl Mørck (a deeply flawed man, although written without a cliché in sight). Adler-Olsen has said the reader must have the opportunity to create their own images from his not-very detailed descriptions, which he calls the “missing voice”, and his light, but masterful creation of Carl Mørck succeeds in this, making the Department Q novels a ‘must’ for any reader.

By Jussi Adler-Olsen,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Keeper of Lost Causes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Get to know the detective in charge of Copenhagen's coldest cases in the first electrifying Department Q mystery from New York Times bestselling author Jussi Adler-Olsen.

Carl Morck used to be one of Denmark's best homicide detectives. Then a hail of bullets destroyed the lives of two fellow cops, and Carl-who didn't draw his weapon-blames himself. So a promotion is the last thing he expects. But Department Q is a department of one, and Carl's got only a stack of cold cases for company. His colleagues snicker, but Carl may have the last laugh, because one file keeps nagging at…


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Book cover of Liddy-Jean Marketing Queen and the Matchmaking Scheme

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