Looking for a holiday gift for the reader on your list? Or maybe a book to get you through the dark, cold days of winter?
We asked Karin Slaughter, Atlanta’s own best-selling crime writer, to name her favorites. Which books inspired her to jump into the genre? Who gets its right?
She knows a thing or two about writing crime. She’s best known for two crime series: her Will Trent books concern the cases of an Atlanta special agent, and her Grant County series is set around the fictional town of Heartsdale, Ga. Her 17th book, The Good Daughter, was published earlier this year.
Here — in her own words — are the books and writers she can’t put down:
FLANNERY O’CONNOR is one of my all-time favorites and I adore every word that she’s written. Her work is shocking, hilarious, and at times brutal.
When I read her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” it was the first time I felt struck with a sense of wonder and possibility about what a writer could do with their craft. Reading her work as a little girl in a very small Southern town, it was exhilarating to see that a woman could get away with telling stories that weren’t the kind you’d tell in polite company. And a woman from Georgia, nonetheless.
“Mystery and Manners” is a collection of essays and lectures that gives a deeper understanding into her version of the Southern gothic, and how she used it as a tool to pry the scab off the human condition. One of my favorite lines: “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”
MORE BOOK PICKS: Atlanta’s top cops and lawyers name their favorites
“GONE WITH THE WIND” by Margaret Mitchell — Scarlett O’Hara was my first literary hero. I love how Margaret Mitchell introduces her: “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful…” Who does that?! What guts to take the one thing that women are always supposed to strive for—physical beauty—and just say (to paraphrase) “It doesn’t matter, because she’s clever.” For the times in which the story was written, Scarlett is a remarkably complex and engaging female anti-hero. In a modern-day context, I think it’s important to also acknowledge that one of Scarlett’s gravest flaws was the fact that she was a slave-owner, and in fact exploited freed slaves after the war. There are so many lenses through which the reader can view Gone With the Wind—as a saga, a thriller, a love story, a literary pillar of the Lost Cause narrative—but the enduring message for me is something that has always stood out from the text: Oftentimes, people can overlook even the worst flaws in character (literary or otherwise) so long as that character is telling them a story that they want to hear.
“TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD” by Harper Lee — On first blush many people don’t consider “To Kill a Mockingbird” a crime novel. They think of it as classic literature (or a book they were forced to read in high school). But think about it again. The entire story revolves around whether or not Tom Robinson is guilty of raping Mayelle Ewell. The crime is right at the very heart of the novel and drives not only the action, but also every single character’s motivation. From a writing perspective, it reminds me that there are many different angles from which to tell a story. In Lee’s case, she uses the point of view of a child to tell a very dark and controversial story, which somehow allows the reader to enter the story in a softer way. I admire this book and it has a permanent spot on my shelf.
“GARNETHILL” by Denise Mina — Denise Mina is terrific at writing about what’s really close to what actually happens with most crimes, which is that people just make stupid mistakes. And they keep making them and keep making them, and suddenly they can’t dig themselves out. The main character in this book is an addict — she’s an alcoholic — and she gets blackout drunk, and she wakes up and her boyfriend has been brutally murdered, and she’s not sure whether or not she did it. It’s really just a fantastic opening. The boyfriend is also her therapist. She has a psychiatric history that’s really dark and just the suspense of who she is — did she do this horrible thing? Is she capable of doing this? The not-knowing is a fantastic trick that Mina pulls off. She is one of my favorite storytellers of all time.
“THE HANNIBAL LECTER TRILOGY” by Thomas Harris — Because if you are going to go dark go all the way dark. I think what makes these stories — especially “The Silence of the Lambs” — so good is that Hannibal Lecter is really smart, cunning, and provocative. This makes him simultaneously compelling and horrifying. Whether it is Lecter’s own crimes or the crimes of others, Lecter is always a step or ten ahead of the FBI and yet the FBI must (of course) persevere. And then, of course, there is no shortage of twists and drama. It is a classic and a must read for anyone who enjoys crime. And if you have only seen the movies but never read the books, well, there are some surprises.
And just for fun…a quick-fire round:
Favorite male investigator: Jack Reacher by Lee Child
Favorite female investigator: V.I. Warshawski by Sarah Paretsky
Favorite hostage negotiator: Thea Paris by K.J. Howe
Favorite legal thrillers: Alafair Burke
Favorite crime novelist: Lisa Gardner
Favorite suspense novelist: Kate White
Favorite import: Sara Blaedel
Favorite Southern writer: Margaret Mitchell
Favorite cupcake: Yellow cake with chocolate frosting (bet you weren’t expecting that one)
Slaughter is working on curating a series called “Most Wanted,” which will include short pieces of nonfiction based on real crimes that made the FBI’s Most Wanted List.