Good evening. Today we’re coming from the New Jersey branch of the Secret Library, staffed by the journalist-turned-novelist Stephen Clark. Stephen is a former award-winning journalist who served as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and as a politics editor for the Washington, D.C. bureau of FoxNews.com.
When he was a reporter for the Utica Observer-Dispatch, Stephen won a New York Newspaper Publishers Association Award of Distinguished Community Service for his investigation into the financial struggles of nonprofit services. His first book, Citizen Kill, a Washington-based political thriller was followed last year by Hands Up, an exploration of injustice and redemption and a tight psychological drama. Now he picks three titles that you should consider. And one of them we’ve seen in the library more than once before. When I started this feature, I hoped it would be full of obscure titles that no one had ever heard of. I’ve realised that this approach was both shallow and wrong – each time a book is nominated we get a fresh insight into the inspiration it’s generated. Enough from me; let’s get straight to Stephen’s choices:
The Stranger by Albert Camus
I first read this existentialistic classic in high school, and its themes of absurdity and alienation haunt me and my writing to this day. The Stranger is a short novel that tells the story of Mersault, an apathetic French Algerian who is tried and sentenced to death for murdering an Arab on a beach in Algiers. But Mersault’s real crime isn’t murder. He’s condemned for defying social norms with his openly nihilistic behavior. The famous first line, which sets the tone for the rest of the novel, immediately hooked me: ‘Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.’
As a preacher’s kid who grew up enjoying Bible stories, I should not have fallen in love with The Stranger. But this book started my lifelong fascination with antiheroes. In fact, my current novel, Hands Up, features three antiheroes: a cop who chases redemption after killing a black teenager; the victim’s sister who seeks revenge; and the victim’s father, a former gang enforcer searching for forgiveness after abandoning his family ten years earlier.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Much has already been written about this blockbuster novel and how it birthed a new genre of thrillers featuring unreliable female protagonists. Yet I must join the chorus of praise for Gone Girl because it re-immersed me into the world of fiction. After years of collecting nonfiction titles, Gone Girl was one of the first thrillers I picked up in 2014. And like millions of other readers, I was blown away by the style of writing, the characters and the twists. Gone Girl is a disturbing look at a marriage gone wrong between Amy, the wife who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances, and Nick, the husband who becomes the prime suspect. What left the biggest impression on me, however, was the unflattering portrayal of Amy. In fact, the female protagonists in all three of Flynn’s novels are deeply flawed. Together, they taught me that it’s okay to make any character unlikeable – regardless of race, gender or religion – as long as they are compelling.
Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
I wasn’t a fan of Southern crime fiction until I read this novel. I first heard about Pizzolatto through his HBO show True Detective, a crime drama set in rural south Louisiana starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. After watching the first season, a critical and commercial success, I grew obsessed with consuming more of Pizzolatto’s work. This book did not disappoint. Its follows grizzled criminal enforcer Roy Cady, as he flees New Orleans with a young prostitute and heads to Galveston, Texas, after his loan-sharking boss attempts to murder him on the same day he’s diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. What sets this novel apart in a genre renowned for grit and darkness, is its heart and soul. You find yourself rooting for Roy despite the bad choices he’s made. Inspired by this book, I’m working on my first Southern noir for my third novel, which will focus on the search for a missing girl and feature a deaf female protagonist.
Thanks Stephen for some great choices, and we look forward to some Southern noir in the future. In the meantime, you can get Hands Up here (like all links, this is an affiliate link).