The best novels with the best character driven stories

Who am I?

My father died before I knew him, when I was sixteen, but once he called me; deceitful. I took that as a compliment, as it came from someone who knew what was deceitful. He was part of an intelligence unit interrogating captured Axis troops at the end of WWII. He told some stories of these deceitful people. It left me to build on those I could remember using my imagination that was shaped, to some extent, by my time in the London Police Force. Most of those books I’ve recommended were rescued from Book Fairs held on rainy Saturday mornings, where the books smelled musty and the people; damp.  


I wrote...

The Desolate Garden

By Daniel Kemp,

Book cover of The Desolate Garden

What is my book about?

Harry Paterson receives a phone call from his estranged father, Lord Elliot Paterson saying he had discovered a vast quantity of money erased from the family-run secret intelligence services bank, dating all the way back to 1936. Mysterious initials and an address in Leningrad—a major port in former Soviet Union—are his only clues. A few months later Lord Elliot is found murdered.

Harry is summoned to London where he must work with the enigmatic Judith Meadows, from MI5, to unravel his father's mysterious death—and figure out the mystery that’s hidden in the files of the Royal Government Bank.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Crime and Punishment

By Larissa Volokhonsky, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear

Book cover of Crime and Punishment

Why this book?

I read this when I was in my late twenties still playing serious rugby, which was my first love. I was full of myself and without a care to speak of, which was my second love; me. This story was a complete shock. I'd never given a thought to poverty, or to the barrenness of ambition. In fact, Id never thought of anyone, but myself. By reading this story it was clear to me where such self-centred thoughts could go. I was rich in many ways but not in the awareness of deprivation and the cruel world beyond my own. I hope theres a Raskolnikov somewhere in the room when I write.


The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

By John Le Carré,

Book cover of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Why this book?

I always want the characters to grab my attention in a book, as much, if not more, than the story itself. Of course the story must be good, but it’s inside the minds, bodies and actions of the protagonists where I live every day until I reach the end. Then, if they were good I’ll look out for them again. 

In this one it was Alec Leamas and George Smiley. I love whisky, so I associated with Leamas in lots of ways and George Smiley was a person whose morality was something I wanted to portray in my fictional characters.


Great Expectations

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of Great Expectations

Why this book?

I’ve already said how I want the characters in the stories I read to grab my attention, so much so that I want to learn how to write the great ones. In pursuit of my ambition, is there anyone as good as Dickens to learn from? There are so many Dickens described in his writing, but as I’m only allowed one of his to choose then it has to be—Magwitch. He was a gigantic monsters rising up from the mud in the graveyard that’s always smothered in a dank, cold mist and where the light from the lantern dances in the shadows of the gravestones.     


Treasure Island

By Robert Louis Stevenson,

Book cover of Treasure Island

Why this book?

By picking Treasure Island I’ve given the game away about my inner-self. This adventure story with a capital ‘A' is for every young boy or man, like me, who just will not grow up. Pirates, buried treasure, mutiny, desert islands with one adventure after another. What more can you ask? All told without the grunts and groans of unnecessary sex, gratuitous violence, or gadgets. I didn’t know this until recently, but even a British Prime Minister was a fan—back in the 1880s. 


The Thirty-Nine Steps

By John Buchan,

Book cover of The Thirty-Nine Steps

Why this book?

I could never forget the name of Richard Hannay from this book as it’s chiselled into my heart. The first review I had on the first novel I wrote came from a Scottish woman, who was a school headmistress, comparing my protagonist to John Buchan’s (a Scottish Writer) Richard Hannay in his The Thirty-Nine Steps. That review caught the eye of a film producer and the rest, as they say, is history. I had a great time doing about twenty-five or more Waterstone’s Book shop signings and having a six-year paid option for the book to become a thirty-million-dollar film. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Pirates, revenge, and intelligence officers?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Pirates, revenge, and intelligence officers.

Pirates Explore 54 books about Pirates
Revenge Explore 56 books about revenge
Intelligence Officers Explore 30 books about intelligence officers

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Berlin Alexanderplatz, Alone in Berlin, and Agent Zigzag if you like this list.