The best novels with the best character driven stories

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Crime and Punishment

Daniel Kemp Why did I love 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.

By Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked Crime and Punishment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hailed by Washington Post Book World as “the best [translation] currently available" when it was first published, this second edition has been updated in honor of the 200th anniversary of Dostoevsky’s birth.

With the same suppleness, energy, and range of voices that won their translation of The Brothers Karamazov the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky offer a brilliant translation of Dostoevsky's astounding pyschological thriller, newly revised for his bicentenniel. 

When Raskolnikov, an impoverished student living in the St. Petersburg of the tsars, commits an act of murder and theft, he sets into motion a story that is…


Book cover of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

Daniel Kemp Why did I love 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.

By John le Carré,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked The Spy Who Came in From the Cold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Our Kind of Traitor; and The Night Manager, now a television series starring Tom Hiddleston.

The 50th-anniversary edition of the bestselling novel that launched John le Carre's career worldwide

In the shadow of the newly erected Berlin Wall, Alec Leamas watches as his last agent is shot dead by East German sentries. For Leamas, the head of Berlin Station, the Cold War is over. As he faces the prospect of retirement or worse-a desk job-Control offers him a unique opportunity for revenge. Assuming the guise of an embittered…


Book cover of Great Expectations

Daniel Kemp Why did I love 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.     

By Charles Dickens,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Great Expectations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'His novels will endure as long as the language itself' Peter Ackroyd

Dickens's haunting late novel depicts the education and development of a young man, Pip, as his life is changed by a series of events - a terrifying encounter with an escaped convict in a graveyard on the wild Kent marshes; a summons to meet the bitter, decaying Miss Havisham and her beautiful, cold-hearted ward Estella; the sudden generosity of a mysterious benefactor - and he discovers the true nature of his 'great expectations'. This definitive edition includes appendices on Dickens's original ending, giving an illuminating glimpse into a…


Book cover of Treasure Island

Daniel Kemp Why did I love 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. 

By Robert Louis Stevenson,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked Treasure Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Penguin presents the audio CD edition of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Following the demise of bloodthirsty buccaneer Captain Flint, young Jim Hawkins finds himself with the key to a fortune. For he has discovered a map that will lead him to the fabled Treasure Island. But a host of villains, wild beasts and deadly savages stand between him and the stash of gold. Not to mention the most infamous pirate ever to sail the high seas . . .


Book cover of The Thirty-Nine Steps

Daniel Kemp Why did I love 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. 

By John Buchan,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Thirty-Nine Steps as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Richard Hannay has just returned to England after years in South Africa and is thoroughly bored with his life in London. But then a murder is committed in his flat, just days after a chance encounter with an American who had told him about an assassination plot which could have dire international consequences. An obvious suspect for the police and an easy target for the killers, Hannay goes on the run in his native Scotland where he will need all his courage and ingenuity to stay one step ahead of his pursuers.


You might also like...

In the Crosshairs: The Body on Leffis Key

By M. S. Spencer,

Book cover of In the Crosshairs: The Body on Leffis Key

M. S. Spencer Author Of The Wishing Tree: Love, Lies, and Spies on Chincoteague Island

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author World traveler Erstwhile beauty Recovering academic News junkie

M.S.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Palmer Lind, recovering from the sudden death of her husband, embarks on a bird-watching trek to the Gulf Coast of Florida. One hot day on Leffis Key, she comes upon—not the life bird she was hoping for—but a floating corpse. The handsome beach bum who appears on the scene at the same time seems to have even more secrets than the dead man.

His story begins to unravel as the pair search for answers to a growing pile of dead bodies. Spies, radical environmentalists, and wealthy businessmen circle around each other in a complex dance. Which one is lying? What…

In the Crosshairs: The Body on Leffis Key

By M. S. Spencer,

What is this book about?

Palmer Lind, recovering from the sudden death of her husband, embarks on a bird-watching trek to the Gulf Coast of Florida. One hot day on Leffis Key she comes upon-not the life bird she was hoping for-but a floating corpse. The handsome beach bum who appears on the scene seems to have even more secrets than the dead man. His story begins to unravel as the pair search for answers to a growing pile of dead bodies. Spies, radical environmentalists, and wealthy businessmen circle around each other in a complex dance. Which one is lying? What do a seemingly random…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Pirates, revenge, and intelligence officers?

11,000+ 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 87 books about Pirates
Revenge Explore 118 books about revenge
Intelligence Officers Explore 55 books about intelligence officers