Crime Fiction


Other people's bookshelves...

Why are other people's bookshelves so interesting?
Article text
Columbo isn’t the only detective who’ll browse a bookshelf to get an insight into his suspect. Authors quite often use the same ploy as a sort of literary device to move the plot along. But why are other people’s bookshelves so interesting? It doesn’t matter where I am, if I have the chance to snoop someone’s bookshelves I will.

Recently I went to stay with my friend Heidi. I’ve known her all my life and think I know her pretty well. We have lots in common – a love of red wine and chocolate (especially Maltesers) for example. But in other ways we’re very different. She loves soaking up the sun, while I run for shade. She dotes on her dog and the thought of having a pet makes me panic. And I’ve always been very aware that she reads ‘better’ books than I do.

Staying the weekend in her newly-decorated spare room gave me a chance to think about her reading choices more carefully than I might otherwise have done. For a start there was a varied selection of books on three brand new bookshelves. I wondered if they’d been chosen carefully to appeal to visitors but no, they were a pretty good reflection of the books elsewhere in the house. It was time for a little interrogation!

We chatted about some of her choices over a glass of red wine (what else?) and here’s her feedback:

Patrick Gale
‘I’ve read all his books – from the Aerodynamics of Pork (1986) to Take Nothing With You (2018). I love the stories because they’re quintessentially English and they all have an interesting twist that always takes me by surprise. I read Take Nothing With You as soon as it was published and it was unputdownable. Particular favourites are Kansas in August which made me laugh until I cried, and Rough Music and Notes from an Exhibition, which made me cry for completely different reasons.’

Dick Francis
‘I love horse racing, so what can I say? Even though these books are old they’re still pacey stories and a good read. Everyone says the books now being written by his son, Felix Francis, are good, so I’m going to give them a try.’

Tess Gerritsen
‘Good holiday reading but actually they’re a bit more than that. I guess you’d describe them as macabre mysteries, and they also usually have a good twist in the plot.’

Mary Stewart
‘As a teenager her mystery novels were particular favourites. They’re good stories with a hint of romance. And thinking about it, it was quite unusual to have strong heroines back then.’

P.G. Wodehouse
‘What’s not to enjoy? If ever you need cheering up, Wodehouse is the way to go! I’ve read and re-read his books. Ridiculous plots, brilliantly silly characters and wonderful wordplay.’

Nicci French, P J Tracy and Karen Rose
‘All fast-paced psychological thrillers. Some are spooky but all of them grip you by the throat from page 1.’

Lee Child
‘I’ve read them all and count the days until the next is published! Jack Reacher is a star and every book a real page-turner.’

So, what did I discover about Heidi after our discussion? Well, yes, her reading matter is more wide-ranging and – dare I say it? – probably rather more grown-up than mine. If anyone looked at my bookshelves they’d know immediately what I enjoy reading. OK, there are some sport and history titles but mostly my books are thrillers and detective novels.

Perhaps if I had more bookshelves I could better disguise the fact that I only really read crime fiction. But why worry? I don’t subscribe to the notion that crime fiction is somehow second rate. Books are written to be enjoyed, so it seems a bit ludicrous for people to imply that because something’s popular it has less literary merit. Bring on the detectives!
Cornish Eskimo