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Jeffery Deaver's Favourite Novels from the Past Eight Decades

Posted on 22nd May 2019 by Mark Skinner

Adept at getting into the head of criminal and victim alike, Jeffery Deaver is one of the most accomplished living thriller writers. His fictional detective, the quadriplegic Lincoln Rhyme, is one of the most distinctive heroes in crime fiction, with Rhyme's first outing, The Bone Collector, being turned into a successful Hollywood movie. To celebrate the release of his latest compelling novel, The Never Game, Deaver shares his favourite thrillers with us, selecting one from each decade from the 1950s onwards.     

One does not get into this crazy world of writing fiction without being an avid reader. If you ever hear of an author killed when his bedside table collapsed and he was crushed to death by all the to-read books, that’ll be me! I love all books and all genres, but it’s been crime books that have drawn me most. And, having just celebrated a birthday, I thought it might be fun to look back at one of the more memorable crime reads I enjoyed in each decade of my life.  

I start with a caveat: there are scores of contenders, so the list is exceedingly selective. One can read a whole lotta books in a decade! 

So, here we go: 

1950s

From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming 

This is my favorite James Bond novel (and my favourite film adaptation). I like the grit, the exotic locales and the reality of the plot. Fleming too apparently felt it was his best. He said this: “Personally I think From Russia With Love was, in many respects, my best book, but the great thing is that each one of the books seems to have been a favorite with one or other section of the public and none has yet been completely damned.” This was also one of President John F. Kennedy’s favorites—and mentioning that helped jumpstart Fleming’s career in the U.S. (I keep waiting; the White House isn’t returning my calls.) 

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The James Bond novel which is most redolent of the shadowy espionage of the Cold War, Fleming’s fifth outing for 007 is one of the very best. Mixing escapist action in exotic locales with a complex plot involving cipher machines, double cross and, naturally, a beautiful female spy, From Russia With Love is vintage Bond from start to finish.
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1960s

Puppet on a Chain, Alistair MacLean 

This novel, from the unparalleled thriller writer of The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare, takes us to the underbelly of Amsterdam in the 1960s. It was one of the first drug-gang novels—long before cartels became a staple of crime fiction. The depictions of the city are top-notch, and the story moves along at breathtaking pace. Some trivia about MacLean. He wrote the script for Where Eagles Dare himself—in a matter of weeks!

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Maclean is in fine sardonic form with this hard-boiled tale about heroin smuggling in the Netherlands. Maverick Interpol agent Paul Sherman is despatched to Schiphol airport to bust a drug trafficking ring, but soon discovers that the perpetrators will stop at nothing to protect their business interests. A fast-paced thrill ride from a master of the genre.
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1970s

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carré 

My favorite thriller writer, le Carré masterfully wove this story of duplicity and betrayal (professional and personal) among high-ups in the British secret service. George Smiley was and remains one of my all-time heroes in fiction (popular and literary). Dogged, brilliant, resourceful and human. There’s more than a little Smiley in my Lincoln Rhyme character. On the subject of le Carré, his A Perfect Spy is the best study of a father-son relationship ever written.

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The precise, unbearably tense operation to uncover a Soviet mole at the heart of British Intelligence forms one of le Carre’s touchstone novels. From smoke filled Whitehall offices to the backstreets of Hong Kong, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s pitch perfect fusion of credible, intriguing characterisation (take a bow, George Smiley) and immersive, labyrinthine plot remains much imitated to this day.
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1980s

The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris 

We all know the movie, though I feel the book is far better, not in terms of plotting (the director inserted a superior twist at the end), but because Harris is one of our all-time great stylists. He puts words together like few living authors (and I’ll hold his writing up against any Man Booker or NBA winner). He also managed to pull off the coup of all time by creating Hannibal Lecter, whose brilliance and cleverness and his honest affection for evil are unparalleled among villains in crime fiction. Sure, he was a cannibal (who doesn’t have unfortunate habits?), but he also had the back of our hero, Clarice Starling. And we loved him for that. 

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Written with a pulsating elegance that sets Harris apart from his crime writing contemporaries, The Silence of the Lambs is the novel that made the devilishly charismatic psychopath Hannibal Lecter infamous and spawned a multi-Oscar winning film adaptation. One of the most groundbreaking thrillers of the past 40 years.
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1990s

The Black Echo, Michael Connelly 

This was the debut novel of Harry Bosch, the world-famous LA detective. The Bosch novels broke ground for being not only cleverly plotted and searing studies of the human psyche, but for creating an immensely appealing Everyman hero. The series also dives into the dynamics of policing, society and politics in Los Angeles better than any author since Raymond Chandler. By the way, the title comes from a great line in the book. When Harry tracks down a suspect (no spoilers; don’t worry), he says, "I will make sure you spend the rest of your life in the black echo."

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The first in Connelly’s Harry Bosch series sees the nuanced, everyman detective investigate a seemingly routine drug death which his intuition tells him is something more sinister. One of the most accomplished crime writers around, Connelly evokes an authentic world of hard slog policing in the darkly glamourous underbelly of Los Angeles.
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2000s

The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly 

There are some who say you can’t mix genres. That’s usually true … unless you’ve got the talent of John Connolly. I love John’s Charlie Parker books and could have picked any one of them for this blog post. But there’s something special about The Book of Lost Things. For both adults and young adults, for fans of psychological suspense and fans of fantasy, the book is a consuming journey into … wait for it, the heart of imagination. 

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Effortlessly blending fairytale fantasy with battered emotional reality, John Connolly weaves a woozy allegory about grief and fear that moves as much as it terrifies. Retreating into an imaginative world of fable after a family tragedy, 12 year old David comes face to face with the chilling Crooked Man and is forced to confront some fundamental truths about himself.
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2010s

Worth Dying For, Lee Child 

I’ve been reading Reacher since he was “born.” There is something uber-appealing to me (no, not that Uber) about the stranger who comes to town and takes on the bad guys without hesitation. There’s a lot of crime writing nowadays that features heroes without much of a moral compass. That doesn’t appeal to me. I want my good guys good, if realistically flawed, and I want the story to speed forward to an old-fashioned clash of hero versus villain. There’ve been a number of books in the series, but Child has managed the seemingly impossible: to keep each story fresh and to add layers to the already fully fleshed out Jack Reacher. 

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Lee Child’s powerhouse reputation is based squarely on compelling, old-fashioned storytelling. Worth Dying For, in which Reacher uncovers violent secrets in rural Nebraska, is a relentless, action packed page turner written with punch, power and a surprising amount of poise.
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2020s

The Last Widow, Karin Slaughter

I’ve followed Karin’s books for years. She’s a true descendent of the writers of classic noir crime fiction that goes back to the 1930s, and includes such authors as Celia Fremlin, Anne Blaisdell, Dorothy L. Sayers and Mickey Spillane. Readers picking up The Last Widow will recognize immediately Karin’s masterful handiwork: a mundane event we’re all familiar with—a trip to a shopping mall—suddenly becomes a nightmare for both victims and investigators. But wait, you think, how can you have a favorite book from your next decade? Well, we authors can often read advanced editions long before they go on sale. Another advantage of being a scribe!

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Few authors get the blood pumping faster than the inimitable Karin Slaughter and her latest thriller is a breakneck ride into terror, mystery and the dark heart of the American dream. A missing daughter sparks an investigation that takes in radical activists and a gripping showdown in the Appalachian mountains.
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