Chris Hammer worked for many years as a journalist, but is now a bestselling crime novelist. His first novel, Scrublands, won the British Crime Writers’ Association New Blood Dagger award. His second novel, Silver, is published by Allen & Unwin.
King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table
Roger Lancelyn Green
First read aged eight, it completely transported me. Initially it was the chivalry, tales of derring-do and Merlin’s magic. But then it turns metaphysical – the round table emptying as knights obsessively seek the Holy Grail, leaving Arthur weakened and vulnerable. His best friend cuckolds him and is banished, his bastard son usurps him. The once-and-future king is cut down and the dark ages descend. An early lesson that powerful stories don’t necessarily have Disneyland endings.
Read aged 21, this is the ultimate undergraduate book. The non-linear structure was like nothing I had read before, but perfect for the irrational world Heller was depicting. I loved the language, the absurdist humour, the free-association and circular logic. And the anti-war, anti-religion, anti-capitalism sentiments. Then the horror of the final chapters brought it all home.
The Bonfire of the Vanities
Read aged 28, while staying in Ed Koch’s New York. An absolute pot-boiler of a novel, populated by larger-than-life characters. I’ve probably read better books, but this left a lasting impression, demonstrating once and for all that an out-and-out page turner could also carry serious social commentary and human insights. None of the characters are likeable, but they’re all compelling, their motives understandable if deplorable. Great use of multiple points of view, satire and language.
Read aged 50. Peter Temple’s Australian crime masterpiece, winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award, really did change me. Together with Temple’s other novels, it helped me choose crime when I ultimately decided to chance my hand at fiction. Exceptional for its purity of style, mastery of the vernacular, and incisive observations. And at its core: the moral dilemmas that shape us all. Crime fiction at its best.