The best gritty American novels

Matthew Stokoe Author Of Colony of Whores
By Matthew Stokoe

Who am I?

Matthew Stokoe has been translated and published around the world, his books have set new boundaries in urban horror and gritty, pull-no-punches noir. After Cows, Stokoe turned his sights on Hollywood, producing the now-famous High Life – both a page-turning mystery and one of the most brutal critiques of Tinsel Town ever committed to fiction. Stokoe has continued to explore his uniquely dark view of lives lived in the modern world, and in 2014 was nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière – France’s most prestigious crime writing award – for his novel, Empty Mile. Colony of Whores, is his latest novel.


I wrote...

Colony of Whores

By Matthew Stokoe,

Book cover of Colony of Whores

What is my book about?

When a failed screenwriter inherits a screenplay that may hold the key to both a sensational Hollywood murder and to his own sister's death, he is drawn into the dangerous twilight world that lurks at the edge of the movie business. Aided by a disgraced former journalist and a maverick female filmmaker bent on destroying the traditional Hollywood hierarchy, he begins a journey of revenge and personal salvation that will pit him against the owners of one of the most powerful and corrupt film companies in Los Angeles.

The books I picked & why

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Last Exit to Brooklyn

By Hubert Selby Jr.,

Book cover of Last Exit to Brooklyn

Why this book?

Last Exit to Brooklyn tells the stories of a group of characters living on the edge of society in 1950s New York – drug addicts, prostitutes, transvestites, he-men struggling with their sexuality, and average Joes struggling just to survive. The prose is sublimely beautiful, and the world it paints is one rarely seen now in print. The book was a profound influence on me – it showed me how important it is to have compassion for your characters, no matter how dark or damned they might be.

Last Exit to Brooklyn

By Hubert Selby Jr.,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Last Exit to Brooklyn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Last Exit to Brooklyn remains undiminished in its awesome power and magnitude as the novel that first showed us the fierce, primal rage seething in America’s cities. Selby brings out the dope addicts, hoodlums, prostitutes, workers, and thieves brawling in the back alleys of Brooklyn. This explosive best-seller has come to be regarded as a classic of modern American writing.


The Big Sleep

By Raymond Chandler,

Book cover of The Big Sleep

Why this book?

Chandler wrote about Southern California, the 1930s and 40s, crime (generally amongst the wealthier classes), and personal honour. Add a good helping of Hollywood and the movies and what’s not to like? His hero, Philip Marlow, is the ultimate outsider, seeking not just a solution to whatever investigation he happens to have been handed, but also the answer to the question that haunts all of Chandler’s work – how to live life as a good man. There were many writers writing crime fiction alongside Chandler, but his superb, almost poetic, use of language, and the flashes of dry wit that he scattered like firecrackers throughout his books left them in the dust.

The Big Sleep

By Raymond Chandler,

Why should I read it?

15 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…


The Man with the Golden Arm

By Nelson Algren,

Book cover of The Man with the Golden Arm

Why this book?

Algren has been called a proletarian writer. Working primarily in Chicago from the 1930s to the 1950s, he was intensely concerned with the plight of the common man. His milieux were the gambling dens, the sawdust bars, the decaying hooker-prowled streets, the beat-down police stations, the shooting galleries, the slums, the cheap walk-up flats where broken men and women fought each other in desperate battles to survive one more miserable day. His characters were the poor, the ignorant, the addicted, tramps, bums, card sharps, petty crims, accidental murderers... But in all of them he found something human, something that might have been good, might have been worthy of a decent life – if only it had been given half a chance.

The Man with the Golden Arm

By Nelson Algren,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Man with the Golden Arm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Man with the Golden Arm tells the story of Frankie Machine, the golden arm dealer at a back street Chicago gambling den. Frankie reckons he's a tough guy in the Chicago underworld but finds that he's not tough enough to kick his heroin addiction. With consummate skill and a finely-tuned ear for the authentic dialogue of the backstreets, Algren lays bare the tragedy and humour of Frankie's world.

Features the first UK publication of a foreword by Kurt Vonnegut and an afterword by Studs Terkel.


Less Than Zero

By Bret Easton Ellis,

Book cover of Less Than Zero

Why this book?

Living in London under Margaret Thatcher and seemingly permanent grey skies, Ellis’s tale of rich kids in Los Angeles doing little else but fucking, drinking, taking drugs, and hanging out at expensive restaurants and cool parties made me want to sell everything I owned (very little back then) and jump on a plane. I often regret that I didn’t. Ellis’s book captures perfectly the strange mix of manic determination and tranquilised-around-the-edges ennui that I later found so characteristic of Los Angeles.

Less Than Zero

By Bret Easton Ellis,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Less Than Zero as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The timeless classic from the acclaimed author of American Psycho about the lost generation of 1980s Los Angeles who experienced sex, drugs, and disaffection at too early an age. • The basis for the cult-classic film "Possesses an unnerving air of documentary reality." —The New York Times
They live in a world shaped by casual nihilism, passivity, and too much money in a place devoid of feeling or hope. When Clay comes home for Christmas vacation from his Eastern college, he re-enters a landscape of limitless privilege and absolute moral entropy, where everyone drives Porsches,…


Post Office

By Charles Bukowski,

Book cover of Post Office

Why this book?

Bukowski was already known, in a small way, as a poet and underground columnist when he wrote his first novel, the autobiographical Post Office. It was given to me by a friend when I lived in London and it just blew me away. The book – an account of Bukowski’s ten years as a postman in LA –  is a rollicking ride full of barroom brawls, boozy beddings, and battles with uncaring authority. Set in cheap, shitty rooms, populated by rejects and losers, I’d never read anything like it before. Bukowski seems to write about nothing in particular – certainly there is almost no plot – but he writes so well, and with such humour and humanness, that before you realise it, you’re fifty pages in and hooked.

Post Office

By Charles Bukowski,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Henry Chinaski is a lowlife loser with a hand-to-mouth existence. His menial post office day job supports a life of beer, one-night stands and racetracks. Lurid, uncompromising and hilarious, Post Office is a landmark in American literature, and over 1 million copies have been sold worldwide.

The new edition is augmented with an anecdotal introduction by the modern Welsh cult-literary author, Niall Griffiths - a writer who was working in a British post office when he first read Bukowski's Post Office.


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