The best crime novels with soundtracks you'll want to playlist

Lloyd Sachs Author Of T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit
By Lloyd Sachs

Who am I?

My earliest filmgoing memory is of a bad guy getting pushed down the stairs in Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much. That shocking scene has stayed with me, leading me into a lifetime of exploring the dark visions of crime stories. It was only natural that my love of rock music, and in its interaction with other media would draw me to mystery writers whose books were fueled by their love of rock, blues and pop. "If not for music and movies, I wouldn't be a novelist," George Pelecanos once told me. "They have influenced me more than any author. I want to shout about it." Me too.


I wrote...

T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit

By Lloyd Sachs,

Book cover of T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit

What is my book about?

T Bone Burnett offers the first critical appreciation of Burnett’s wide-ranging contributions to American music, his passionate advocacy for analog sound, and the striking contradictions that define his maverick artistry. Lloyd Sachs highlights all the important aspects of Burnett’s musical pursuits, from his early days as a member of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue and his collaboration with the playwright Sam Shepard to the music he recently composed for the TV shows Nashville and True Detective and his production of the all-star album Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes. Sachs also underscores Burnett’s brilliance as a singer-songwriter in his own right. T Bone Burnett reveals how this consummate music maker has exerted a powerful influence on American music and culture across four decades.

The books I picked & why

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King Suckerman

By George P. Pelecanos,

Book cover of King Suckerman

Why this book?

A lot of people know George Pelecanos from his work as a TV writer, but long before he contributed to The Wire and The Deuce, he was turning out great mysteries, most of them set in his hometown of Washington, D.C. These are smart, sociological thrillers that teach you a lot about life on the city's mean streets. What sets books like King Suckerman apart for me is how much they teach you about the way popular music—heard from car radios, boom boxes, and record store systems—defines people's lives. For me, one of the book's many highlights is a fierce exchange between a guy who, based on Jimi Hendrix's funky playing in Band of Gypsys thinks the guitarist should be filed under soul rather than rock because that was the direction he was going and a friend who responds, "What you think you are, man, the Amazing Kreskin... gonna tell me now where a dead man was headed with his shit?"


Easy Meat

By John Harvey,

Book cover of Easy Meat

Why this book?

As a jazz critic, I was long struck by the absence of knowledgable (and fun) references to this music in mystery novels, my second love. Then I happened upon a pair of remaindered books by British novelist John Harvey. A blurb referring to his police detective Charlie Resnick's devotion to bebop giants Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk sealed the deal. Harvey doesn't just drop names and titles in Easy Meat, he plays jazz critic himself: "It was a bad sign, Resnick knew, when he played Monk last thing at night, the pianist’s fractured attempts at melody obeying no logic but their own. A big man, as Resnick was big, Monk’s fingers stabbed down at single notes, crushed chords into the beauty of an abstract painting, twisted scaffolding seen in a certain light." 


Let It Bleed: An Inspector Rebus Novel

By Ian Rankin,

Book cover of Let It Bleed: An Inspector Rebus Novel

Why this book?

You know an author is serious about his rock music when he names three of his novels after Rolling Stones albums. As much as I liked the Stones, growing up, my personal tastes leaned more toward the Beatles. But the more I read Scottish great Ian Rankin's Rebus novels, the more I gravitated toward Mick Jagger and the boys. When it comes to classic rock 'n' roll moments, you just can't beat the one in Let it Bleed in which down-and-out Inspector John Rebus finds solace in a Keith Richards guitar riff. "Women, relationships and colleagues had come and gone but the Stones had always been there. 'I don't have much,' Rebus thought, 'but I have this.'"


Piece of My Heart

By Peter Robinson,

Book cover of Piece of My Heart

Why this book?

Lots of books have been written about sixties pop culture, something I cut my teeth on as a music and movie fanatic, but few have captured it as well as Peter Robinson's Piece of My Heart. Named after the Janis Joplin classic, the book has Chief Inspector Alan Banks trace the recent murder of a rock journalist to the murder of a young woman at an outdoor rock concert in 1969. You might expect a strong dose of nostalgia, but Robinson, a Canadian with British roots, transcends the soft stuff with hard insight into what that era was all about—the good, the bad, and the sorrowful. 



The Rich Man's Table

By Scott Spencer,

Book cover of The Rich Man's Table

Why this book?

This novel by the author of Endless Love (fabulous novel, terrible movie adaptations) isn't a mystery novel in the strictest terms. But it's about one of the greatest human mysteries, Bob Dylan, represented by fictional singer-songwriter Luke Fairchild, and considering how little we know about Dylan, how can we not seize the chance to see him through the eyes of a great novelist? The novel is narrated by Fairchild's illegitimate son, who obsessively searches for his father after discovering he is a legendary artist. In an act of considerable nerve, Spencer punctuates the pages with Dylanesque lyrics. 



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