In no particular order, here are some of the books I've enjoyed reading. Click on the links to find out more about them on Amazon.
The Jigsaw Man by Paul Britton
This is a gripping, non-fiction tale, written by a real-life psychological profiler following the many headline-making cases he worked on for the police, including the murder of Jamie Bulger.
As a former detective, I love to read books based on real-life investigations, because I enjoy the authenticity and veracity in the explanations of the police work.
The book is decades old now and some of the methods and techniques within it have been superseded, but it demonstrates how, by jumping on one single piece of information you can sway an entire investigation – often to its detriment.
Many of the conclusions in this book have turned out to be controversial as new evidence has come to light since it was written. It stands as a fascinating example of how incredible and how poor, policing can be in major investigations. It also demonstrates how senior officers can get it so terribly wrong when they skewer a case by attributing so much importance to a useless or inaccurate piece of information.
If you are fascinated by true crime and criminal profiling then don't miss reading the Jigsaw Man, but be sure to make your own mind up about the usefulness of the art.
As a former Scotland Yard detective, I wrestle with myself about reading and watching a lot of crime fiction because I struggle with the realism element. However, Ian Rankin is one of the few authors that gets it pretty much 100% spot on. I love the fact that his lead character, Rebus, has remained a Detective Sergeant and a Detective Inspector – close enough to the action to get his hands dirty, but also work on some really juicy cases. (Detective Chief Inspectors don’t visit crime scenes. I don't think I've ever seen one out of the office, let alone digging up a body!)
Many people complain that too many detectives in crime fiction are drinkers; separated from their partners and don’t play by the rules – but unfortunately, this is real life. Working crazy shift patterns, having death and destruction in your face 24/7 and dealing with all the worst aspects of our society - mean that many police officers struggle with their private lives, have addictions and die young in retirement.
Rankin doesn’t shy away from vivid descriptions of the unsavoury side of internal police politics, whilst pulling all the elements of the mystery together beautifully. I love the way that strands of his books, (much like parts of many real-life police investigations) seem totally disconnected - yet end up interlinking to come together at the denouement.
In The Resurrection Men, published in 2002, Rebus blows up at a colleague and ends up in the last chance saloon. Here, for me, Rebus encapsulates life as a detective. I’d love to get into some mischief with Rebus in London and maybe also get him some help from my chosen charity, the Police Dependants' Trust. Much of what Ian Rankin writes, I or colleagues have experienced during our own detective careers.
This book has a special resonance for me, because it was the first time that I realised our heroes and lead characters are far more interesting when they get down and dirty.
Danny and his dad are poachers and this is the story of how they mastermind one of the cleverest plots in poaching history.
For me, as the son of a policeman – this was a very exciting and guilty read. Heroes can do bad things, but still win the day? Lead characters can be naughty but we still want to root for them?
It also led me to win a school competition, and one of my earliest memories is of getting to meet the author. He was one of the humblest and most lovely people I’ve ever met – putting me at ease instantly.
His best piece of advice was to always use your own experiences in your writing. He’d used his memories of being caned as a child in the book - in a terrifying scene where Danny is punished by his teacher for cheating in an exam.
Above all, Danny, the Champion of the World is about growing up and learning that our parents have vices, but we can still love them – and how, in order to unlock a solution, brain power will always win over brute force. Something I tried to remember throughout my detective career.
Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab
An eight-man British Army SAS patrol, is deployed into Iraq during the First Gulf War. Everything that could go wrong, does go wrong.
One of the best books in terms of showing just how everything can fall apart in a live operational environment, I appreciate how it doesn’t necessarily paint everyone as super-successful soldiering heroes . The mission was a mess, but members of the team (not all) still managed to make it out the other side.
Described as a ‘fictionalised version of real events’ – there is much controversy surrounding how much is truth and how much is made up in this tale. Surviving members of the team were given pseudonyms, yet dead members of the patrol had their real names exposed. This angle fascinates me, as, due to the Official Secrets Act, I was not allowed to write a biographical, non-fiction account of my own time in the police and had to create a thriller instead.
Bravo Two Zero has since spawned its own publishing spin-offs and careers, as other surviving members of the patrol have told their own versions of events. Several investigative books have also been published which aim to uncover the truth behind Andy McNab’s original tale. Rare is the book that begets its own publishing snowball.
McNab now allegedly lives in New York with his fifth wife.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
In a Forest-Gump-esque storyline, involving some of the most momentous events of the twentieth century, Allan escapes (in his slippers) through his bedroom window. An unlikely journey ensues, involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, Allan's earlier life is revealed. A life in which - remarkably - he played a key role behind the scenes of some of the most well known events in history.
A quirky, simple tale at its heart - this story is special to me because it was one of the books that encouraged me to climb out of the window. I wanted to move on from writing articles and blogs and dared to dream about writing something longer. It made me realise that tales set against real-life events can really capture readers’ imaginations - and gave me the extra push I needed to document my experiences in The Theseus Paradox.
Like Allan, we should all climb out of that window sometimes.
The Stand by Stephen King
Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic tome about an America blighted by a population-devastating superflu.
With no law and order and a rampant virus, this is the perfect example of how society can break down and fall to pieces - causing even the good guys to turn bad. Enjoy Lord of the Flies or The Beach? Wondered what could happen if we had a modern day Black Death on our hands? Think we’d all get on if we were all up against it? A microcosm of society where life just gets worse. How would you deal with everyday situations when there’s no law and order?
A supernatural element, themes of terrorism and a cast of thousands means this book isn’t for everyone, but as Stephen King himself admits, ‘The best stories end up being about people rather than the event.’
The Stand also holds a special meaning for many authors because it was the book Stephen King says he nearly gave up on due to writer’s block: ‘If I’d had two or three hundred pages, instead of five-hundred – I would have abandoned it and written something else. God knows, I’d done it before. Writing fiction is like crossing the Atlantic in a bathtub. But five hundred pages was too big an investment in time and creative energy. I found it impossible to let go.’
Much like you feel when you’ve finished this book.