The best books with ex-con characters you can’t help but root for

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a British crime writer and am the winner of the CWA Debut Dagger and have been longlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger. I have been reading crime thrillers for most of my life and while I love reading about cops and detectives, I seem to have a special liking for amateur detectives, criminals with good hearts, and ex-cons. In my own novels, two crime thrillers set in west London, my main character, Zaq Khan, is an ex-con who gets caught up in dangerous situations and, along with his best friend, tries to get out of them alive. The books I’ve recommended have all inspired and influenced what I write.


I wrote...

Brothers in Blood

By Amer Anwar,

Book cover of Brothers in Blood

What is my book about?

After being released from prison, Zaq Khan heads home to Southall, West London and is lucky to land a dead-end job at a builders' yard. All he wants is to keep his head down, put the past behind him and try to rebuild his life. But when Zaq is forced to search for his boss's runaway daughter, he quickly finds himself caught up in a deadly web of deception, murder, and revenge.

With time running out and pressure mounting, can he find the missing girl before it's too late? And if he does, can he keep her - and himself - alive long enough to deal with the people who want them both dead?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Hunter

Amer Anwar Why did I love this book?

As a huge fan of the movie Payback, when I learned it was based on a novel, I had to read it – it was also the source for the movie Point Blank.

Richard Stark was a pseudonym of the great Amercian crime writer Donald E. Westlake, whose books were usually lighter capers. He wanted to try something different and created the brooding, almost sociopathic, character of Parker, a professional thief who lives by his own code.

The writing is lean and spare, no-nonsense, just like Parker, and there’s real pace and momentum to the storytelling. If you like gripping, taut thrillers, it’s a brilliant example and one that continues to influence me as a writer.

The character proved so popular that what was meant to be a one-off turned into a whole series – all of them fantastic.

By Richard Stark,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

You probably haven't ever noticed them. But they've noticed you. They notice everything. That's their job. Sitting quietly in a nondescript car outside a bank making note of the tellers' work habits, the positions of the security guards. Lagging a few car lengths behind the Brinks truck on its daily rounds. Surreptitiously jiggling the handle of an unmarked service door at the racetrack.They're thieves. Heisters, to be precise. They're pros, and Parker is far and away the best of them. If you're planning a job, you want him in. Tough, smart, hardworking, and relentlessly focused on his trade, he is…


Book cover of Out Of Sight

Amer Anwar Why did I love this book?

Elmore Leonard was the first crime author I ever read, and his books are what got me hooked on the genre.

Like many of his characters, Jack Foley, despite being a criminal, in this case a bank robber, is just so much fun to spend time with and read about.

The book starts with Foley escaping from prison only to find himself bundled into the trunk of a car with a female US marshal. What follows is a cat-and-mouse, cops and robbers tale, as only Elmore Leonard could have written it.

Fabulous characters, amazing situations, and some of the coolest dialogue in all of fiction. The film was great, but the book is even better.

Read it and you’ll want to read everything else he ever wrote.

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…


Book cover of No Beast So Fierce

Amer Anwar Why did I love this book?

Edward Bunker didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk, spending over 25 years in prison for various crimes including armed robbery.

That experience of life in and out of prison meant he knew exactly what he was writing about and the authenticity drips from the page.

No Beast So Fierce is a blistering tale about an ex-con trying his damndest to go straight while the pull of the criminal life tugs harder and harder at him.

It captures that life in all its rawness and brutality. Not an easy read, it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Quentin Tarantino was such a fan of the book he gave Edward Bunker the role of Mr. Blue in his movie, Reservoir Dogs.

By Edward Bunker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked No Beast So Fierce as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity' - Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2

An angry and mercilessly suspenseful novel about an ex-con's attempt to negotiate the "straight world" and his swan dive back into the paradoxical security of crime. It is airtight in its construction, almost photorealistic in its portrayal of L.A. lowlife and utterly knowledgeable about the terrors of liberty, the high of the quick score and the rage that makes the finger tighten on the trigger of the gun.

No Beast So Fierce was Eddie Bunker's debut novel and has the searing intensity of…


Book cover of Savage Season

Amer Anwar Why did I love this book?

The first book in the Hap and Leonard series sees unlikely best friends Hap Collins and Leonard Pine mixed up in the hunt for some missing stolen loot.

Set in East Texas, it’s the friendship between the two main characters that is so brilliantly conveyed in this and the subsequent books in the series that make it really stand out.

Their dry humour, constant ribbing, and put-downs of each other ring so true of and really reminded me of my own close friendships.

This book got me to look at my own friendships as inspiration for the characters I write about – and they’re just great reads.

By Joe R. Lansdale,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Here comes Trudy back into Hap's life, thirty-six but looking ten years younger, with long blonde hair and legs that begin under her chin, and the kind of walk that'll make a man run his car off the road. Here comes trouble, says Leonard, and he's right. She was always trouble, but she had this laugh when she was happy in bed that could win Hap over every time. Trudy has a proposition: an easy two hundred thousand dollars, tax-free. It's just a simple matter of digging it up ...Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, white and black, straight and gay,…


Book cover of Razorblade Tears

Amer Anwar Why did I love this book?

Two ex-con fathers reluctantly team up to find out who murdered their gay sons.

It’s a great premise for a book and it lives up to and surpasses all expectations. S.A.Cosby burst onto the crime writing scene with Blacktop Wasteland but in my opinion, this book is even better.

Gritty, muscular writing with heart, humour, and lines that are almost poetic in their beauty.

You feel the pain and loss of the main characters and their guilt too, for not accepting their sons for who they were – and boy, do you want them find those responsible for their deaths and serve them up some vengeance.

By S.A. Cosby,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Razorblade Tears as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER* One of Barack Obama's Recommended Reads for Summer • New York Times Notable Book • NPR’s Best Books of 2021 • Washington Post’s Best Thriller and Mystery Books of the Year • TIME Magazine’s 100 Must-Read Books of 2021 • New York Public Library’s Best Books of the Year • Goodreads Choice Award Nominee • Book of the Month’s Book of the Year Finalist
“Provocative, violent — beautiful and moving, too.” —Washington Post
“Superb...Cuts right to the heart of the most important questions of our times.” —Michael Connelly
“A tour de force – poignant, action-packed,…


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A House on Liberty Street

By Neil Turner,

Book cover of A House on Liberty Street

Neil Turner Author Of A House on Liberty Street

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Reader Traveler Inquisitive Family guy Writer

Neil's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Meet Tony Valenti. His high-flying corporate law career just cratered. His society marriage blew up in a bitter divorce. He's returned to the Chicago suburbs to lick his wounds and regroup in the haven of the Valenti family home. But time to heal isn't in the cards.

Tony's elderly father inexplicably shoots a sheriff's deputy on their front porch. Nobody knows why, and Papa isn't talking. Then their house becomes an unlikely target for condemnation and expropriation by corrupt local officials and their cronies.

With money and hope dwindling, Tony steps up to defend his father and take to city hall, and quickly finds himself in peril when he unearths sinister connections between the cases. The audacity of the plot against them fuels a gritty determination to get to the bottom of what really happened—regardless of the risks and ultimate cost to himself. To win, Tony must earn his father's trust and outwit his wily opponents.

A House on Liberty Street

By Neil Turner,

What is this book about?

A father. A son. A murder.

Meet Tony Valenti. His high-flying corporate law career just cratered. His society marriage blew up in a bitter divorce. He’s returned to the Chicago suburbs to lick his wounds and regroup in the haven of the Valenti family home. But time to heal isn’t in the cards.

Tony’s elderly father inexplicably shoots a sheriff’s deputy on their front porch. Nobody knows why, and Papa isn’t talking. Then their house becomes an unlikely target for condemnation and expropriation by corrupt local officials and their cronies.

With money and hope dwindling, Tony steps up to defend…


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