Here are three books, in no particular order, that absolutely blew me away when I read them.
I’ve heard people describe Terry Pratchett as a children’s author, which is rather like describing Picasso as a bloke who couldn’t do faces very well. It does rather miss the point. What Terry Pratchett was, was Terry Pratchett. He essentially became a genre unto himself. Technically, it is fantasy in the sword and sorcery area but he created in the Discworld something so much more than that. As a massive life-long fan, what is really interesting to me now that I’m a writer, is looking back at these books again with a fresh perspective. All of the discworld novels are wonderful but I’d argue that this one is the one that started the great man’s ascent into being something truly special. For a start, it features Sam Vimes for the first time, a copper that I’m sure has had more than a say in the development of Bunny McGarry in my head. Vimes is Pratchett’s greatest creation, a broken man with a sense of duty. He gives Pratchett his best vessel with which to show us what he thinks of the world. That is the greatest thing in these books – he has created a whole other world in order to allow him to talk about the one we all live in. Right and wrong, hate, the fear of the other, the corrupting power of greed and the ultimate triumph of hope over cynicism, those are all big themes he revisited again and again. And the jokes work – I mean they really work. He could do it all and did, we’ll never see his like again.
Hand on heart, if I’d to pick what I consider to be the greatest debut novel of all time, it’d be this. It contains more brilliant ideas and flashes of genius than most writers have in a career. I can remember reading it as a college student and then getting every one of my friends to read it too. It is I guess you’d say technically Sci-fi or dystopian fiction, but then there’s horror in there and a lot of humour too but then, at it’s heart, there’s a detective story in there too. Frankly, it shouldn’t work as in a lot of ways, it is a mess of a book. It starts as a brilliant comedic thriller, then it morphs into a nightmarish descent into darkness, before becoming a story about revenge and redemption. If you’re looking for something different, then this is the book for you. Some authors arrive with a fizzle, some with a bang – Michael Marshall Smith arrived with a fireworks display of sheer imagination that is a real sight to behold.
Brookmyre used be the clown prince of British crime writing, combining a whip-smart plot with a wicked sense of humour. These days, he’s become a more conventional crime author with less emphasis on the humour, although still a very fine author who has never written a bad book. He’s often pushed boundaries in different ways and in a world where publishers want authors to produce the same but different, he has never been afraid to be different. Country of the Blind is my absolute favourite among his books. Again, Jack Parlabane, not unlike Pratchett’s Sam Vimes, is a flawed and compelling central character who you can’t help but being drawn too. The plot is what makes this book really soar though. A bunch of downsized honest men who turn to crime get set-up to take the fall for a high profile murder. It makes for a thriller that veers in new and unexpected directions while giving the reader a cast of characters to really pull for. How it hasn’t been made into a movie or TV series completely baffles me – it is from start to finish a brilliantly written page-turner that shows how well crime and comedy can work when combined by a true master.