What Got You Hooked on Crime, Anna Jaquiery?

I am delighted to welcome a very talented writer on my blog today to share her reading passions with us. Anna Jaquiery’s debut novel ‘The Lying-Down Room’ has been receiving rave reviews on Crime Fiction Lover , Liz Loves Books and ShotsMag. So compelling is her portrayal of origami-loving Detective Serge Morel and of Paris sweltering in the August heat, that many readers believed this to be a translated French novel. Yet, although Anna is of French-Malaysian descent, she has lived all over the world, first with her diplomat parents, then with her job, and is now settled in Australia, where she writes fiction, journalism and poetry in English. How could I resist inviting this global nomad to discuss her favourite books? You can also find Anna on Twitter.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

AnnaJaquieryIt’s difficult to remember when it all started. I’ve been reading crime fiction for a very long time. I read it alongside other genres. I like crime fiction’s ability to take on contemporary issues and say something about the world we live in.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I like crime novels that are about more than just plot and offer something original. If a book opens with a girl trapped in a basement… I have to admit I’m often unlikely to continue. The sadistic serial killer theme is overdone. My favourite crime novels are the ones where characters and setting really come to life. For example, I love a number of American writers like James Lee Burke, Dennis Lehane and Laura Lippman. I read every book they publish. I love their writing and when I read their stories I feel I’m really there.

What is the most memorable book you’ve read recently?

Though it was some time ago, the Stieg Larsson trilogy really stood out for me. I found it so gripping and was sad when it came to an end. There are so many interesting strands in the books. Lisbeth Salander is a fantastic character. Many people have said that the books are too long and could have done with some serious editing. Perhaps that is the case, but I found myself completely engaged, particularly with the first book, ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’.

About two years ago I discovered Scottish writer Denise Mina’s books. I am a big fan of hers. I’d also recommend Tana French, in particular her book ‘Broken Harbour’, and the Australian author Garry Disher. His book ‘Bitter Wash Road’, set in a remote part of South Australia, is one of the best crime books I’ve read these past years. Sometimes I find the categorization of books, and the tendency to define crime fiction as something separate from literary fiction, doesn’t do authors justice. Disher is both a crime writer and a so-called literary one. His writing is spectacular and this book is much more than a crime story.

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

I think I’d have to say the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, for the reasons mentioned above.

booksWhat are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

At the moment I’m reading a book you recommended on your blog! ‘The Sweetness of Life’ by Paulus Hochgatterer. I really like it for its originality and its moody, mildly claustrophobic atmosphere. The pace is quite slow and I like that too because I think there is some pressure on crime writers to keep things moving quickly in their novels.

I’m also looking forward to reading ‘The Reckoning’ by Rennie Airth. And also several non-crime titles: Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’, as well as forthcoming titles by David Mitchell and Sarah Waters.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ is one I always recommend; it is such a joyous read. Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’. Rushdie is an extraordinary writer and I can’t think of any living writer who is like him. He’s a literary genius. ‘A House for Mr Biswas’ by V.S. Naipaul is one of my favourite novels. Also ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel and ‘The People’s Act of Love’ by James Meek. On a different note, I recently read ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig and loved it for its humour and tenderness. I’ve been recommending that one to friends over the past few weeks.

Phew, what a choice and eclectic list of books and authors – I’ve been taking notes! Thank you so much for participating, Anna, and I’m very flattered that you followed one of my book recommendations. Watch out also for my own review of ‘The Lying Down Room’, which will appear on Wednesday or Thursday this week. 

For previous participants in the series, just follow this link. Of course, as usual, if you would like to take part, please let me know via the comments or on Twitter – we always love to hear about other people’s criminal passions!

Most Overrated Books (in My World)

The Lovely BonesWhen there is too much of a buzz around a book, I tend to wait for a few years before reading it (I will probably read 50 Shades of Grey when I am a grandmother, at this rate).  I did that with Harry Potter, ‘Life of Pi’ and I am still waiting to read Hilary Mantel’s latest two.  Because, with all due respect to reviewers, online chat forums and book clubs, no one can read a book for you.  Tastes are so different, that only you can make up your own mind! (Thank goodness.)

I finally read Alice Sebold’s ‘The Lovely Bones’ yesterday and was intrigued for the first 50 pages or so, then a bit bored, then finally frustrated.  It’s an interesting premise (the omniscient narrator from heaven) and the adolescent voice is charming, but after a while the archness and sentimentality begin to jar.  It just goes on for too long: a novella-length of about 20,000 would have been more than enough.

So that got me musing about other books that I have found highly overrated.  Please bear in mind this is always a very personal exercise, so don’t be offended if I have included any of your favourites!  However, I would love to hear you defend any of my choices (because I am not Miss Know-It-All), or let me know if there are any others I ought to include.

1) Dan Brown: The Da Vinci Code

And pretty much everything else he has written.  When I first read this, I thought it was a parody of a certain type of thriller.  But alas, no, it’s deadly earnest!

2) Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat Pray Love

Don’t get me wrong: I think she is very brave to share with readers her early-midlife-crisis and search for fulfilment.  I just find the journey a selfish and not that well-written pursuit of personal happiness, with very little attempt to understand or interact deeply with the cultures she encounters.  Some funny observations, but overall too much bellybuttonism for my taste.

3) Stieg Larsson

Yes, I ‘m sorry, the whole Girl with Dragon Tattos and other tormented characteristics left me cold!  It’s not the violence or misogyny that I complain about (the first is widespread in crime fiction, the second is debatable anyway).  No, it’s the fact that it bores me.  Everyone talks about its relentless pace and it being a page-turner, but I have to admit I skipped entire repetitive passages. It feels completely unedited, a real jumble: just spewing out of odd bits of information, plotlines and shifts in narrative voice.

4) Hemingway’s novels

His short stories are brilliant.  I just find his terseness and übermasculinity grates over the length of a novel.  And sometimes I am not sure he is as profound as his critics make him out to be.

5) Paul Coelho: The Alchemist

Possibly because all the people I despised in high school loved it so much.  Or because fable-type narratives always hit my cynical vein, from which then gushes forth pretentious twaddle.  Sometimes beautiful words are poetry that makes us gasp in wonder… and sometimes it’s a rich cake, giving me indigestion.  (On the other hand, I do like some of his other books, for instance ‘Veronika Decides to Die’.)

As I said, don’t take my word for it!  If you haven’t read these, then you may want to ignore my opinion and make up your own mind. Now I would like to know which books you love to hate!  Although I may shoot you if you dare to say ‘The Great Gatsby’ or Jane Austen…