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The Favorite Crime Novels that Inspired Elyse Friedman to Write One of Her Own


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“I have a gun in my head.” My mother used to say that. When I was very little, I didn’t know what she meant, but soon enough it became clear. The asshole in the BMW who jumped his turn at the four-way stop? Blam. The incompetent male colleague who took credit for her ideas? Pop pop pop. The xenophobic neighbour asked her why she married a “greeny”? Right between the eyes. What my mother knew, and what I recently discovered as I wrote my first crime novel, is that it’s extremely satisfying to kill people in your imagination. Especially rotten people.

Prior to penning The Opportunist, I had written three novels and a novella. They had plots that amused me: a broke artist starts a cult to make money / a hideously ugly woman wakes up beautiful and discovers that, contrary to what we’ve all been told, it’s actually what’s outside that counts / a wealthy screenwriter buys his childhood home, retrofits it to look exactly as it had in the 1970s and hires actors to portray his long-deceased parents at a very strange family reunion (I did it first, Nathan Fielder) / a washed-up C-list former celebrity starts stalking his biggest fan. All of these were a kick to write, but none were half as much fun as The Opportunist, in which three siblings band together to vanquish the 28-year-old  “gold digger” who is about to marry their 76-year-old father. And the chapters I most enjoyed scribbling were the ones that were the most murder-y (once you’ve gleefully run over a character in a speed boat, there’s really no going back to literary fiction).

So, now I’m hooked and currently at work on my second crime novel. The other day my son saw me gazing out the window at the pretty yellow leaves drifting down from the sugar maple in the front yard.  I guess I must have looked dreamy or contemplative because he asked what I was thinking about. “I was wondering if it were possible to stuff somebody in a septic tank,” I said. He looked vaguely alarmed as he backed out of the room. The truth is, I’ve always been a fan of crime fiction, so I don’t know why it took me so long to try my hand at it. Here are a few favourites that inspired me to take the plunge:

Crime and Punishment

 Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The mother of all crime novels. No other piece of literature has penetrated my subconscious like this one. To this day, it remains the only book that has ever entered my dreams. Even though I read it decades ago, I still remember having sweaty nightmares in which I had slain the pawnbroker and was cowering on the dark staircase, desperately trying to make my escape.

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Burial by Neil Cross

I must be into books about people who feel horribly guilty. A terrible mishap at a party leads to a girl’s death in which Nathan, the protagonist, plays a key role. Nathan learns that while you can dispose of a corpse, you can’t as easily do away with a nagging conscience. And the past has funny way of popping up in the present. A slow burn full of heart-squeezing suspense.

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Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard

You’ve got to love a book that starts with a guy learning that if he gets up out of his chair, he’ll be blown to smithereens. Leonard brings his breezy style and wit to a story about a cop who’s about to leave the bomb squad, and two ex hippie revolutionaries (who have graduated from politics to lucre) with a talent for blowing things up.

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The Outlander by Gil Adamson

When a poet writes a crime book you end up with a thrilling combination of suspense, action and literary perfection. Every line is a carefully crafted thing of beauty. And while you could easily linger and marvel at the stunning sentence composition and impeccably researched period details, you’ll be quickly turning pages to find out if our heroine Mary Boulton can stay one step ahead of the terrifying redheaded brothers who are pursuing her. Ridgerunner, the sequel, is also great.

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The Woman Chaser by Charles Willeford

Richard Hudson is a used-car salesman who divides the world into Feebs and Insiders. Feebs are the feeble minded, the suckers. Insiders are those who are “wise to themselves and to things as the way things are.” Hudson fancies himself an Insider. And when he decides he’s going to transition from salesman to writer/director of a feature film, he uses all his corrupt Insider energy to manipulate his way to the top. A true sociopathic schemer, but maybe more of a Feeb than he knows.

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The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Even though I guessed the twist a lot sooner than I would have liked, I really dug this tale about Jacob Finch Bonner, a once promising, now washed-up author who regains literary fame and fortune after stealing the plot of a deceased student’s novel. It’s all bestseller lists and accolades for Jake until somebody out there realizes the story has been pinched. Now Jake has to figure out who knows his secret before his treachery can be exposed. This is a fun one for writers, especially anyone who has gone through an MFA program, as Hanff Korelitz is clearly familiar with the milieu and the exasperating types who populate that world.

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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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