Books To Die For was something I couldn’t wait to read as soon as I heard about it. Authors John Connolly and Declan Burke asked over one hundred of the world’s top crime fiction authors to pick the book they would most passionately advocate for and write an essay about it. The contributors vary in sub-genre from Michael Connelly to Laurie R. King to Jo Nesbo. The book exceeded my expectations.
The approach to the essays ranges from the erudite to the anecdotal. I’ve heard Megan Abbott discuss Dorothy B. Hughes’ In A Lonely Place in depth, and in her essay learned she still had a lot to say about it. Joseph Wambaugh’s piece on In Cold Blood recounts how he was invited to Truman Capote’s house when they met on The Tonight Show and how the meeting nudged him into writing The Onion Field. Some simply work as great recommendations, like Lee Child’s testimony for a book titled The Damned And The Destroyed by Kenneth Orvis. I’m getting Donald Goine’s ghetto noir, Daddy Cool, on Ken Bruen’s advice.
The collection delivers so many things. Arranged chronologically by the publication date of the recommended books, it serves as an informal history of the genre. It also proves you can learn the most about an artist when he or she discusses an admired peer. When David Corbett praises James Crumley’s The Wrong Case, he lists many things that can be found in his own work. and you can tell William Kent Kruger learned some lessons from Tony Hillerman when designing his hero.
Books To Die For serves as a history of crime fiction reflected in one of it’s current and, quite possibly, greatest generations. John Connolly has said writing the essay was the hardest thing he’s ever done and he will never do it again. Hopefully we can talk him into it in about ten years.