Top Ten Thrillers About Writers
It sometimes seems like a cop-out when a writer makes the main character of his or her story another writer. Have they run out of ideas? Is it a form of self-criticism, or is it just narcissism? The stakes are raised somewhat when the writer in question is a crime writer. It opens up all sorts of possibilities: the chance to murder a writer, or make a writer a hero. Here are ten of the best.
The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie
Notable for being the only Christie novel in which crime writer Ariadne Oliver appears without Hercule Poirot. I quite like Ariadne Oliver (some don’t, I know), especially the way Christie uses her to satirize crime writing and crime writers. She’s not exactly the hero of this novel, but she helps out in solving a fun and seemingly supernatural crime.
A Suspension of Mercy by Patricia Highsmith
A television writer of murder mysteries begins to plot out how he would kill his wife, even going so far as to see how hard it is to drag a rolled-up carpet out into the woods. These actions come back to haunt him when his wife goes missing.
Sleuth by Anthony Shaffer
Not a novel, but a play. A well-respected crime novelist plays a cat-and-mouse game with his wife’s young lover. It’s well worth a read if you can find a copy, but there are also two film versions. The 1972 one, with Sir Laurence Olivier as the wily crime novelist, is the best.
London Fields by Martin Amis
Martin Amis is not known as a crime novelist, but many of his books are variations on murder mystery plots. In this one, the narrator is an American writer living in London, who tells the story of a murder yet to happen. It’s dark stuff but also darkly funny.
Misery by Stephen King
There are many, many writers in Stephen King’s novels, but nothing digs into the fragile psyche of a best-selling novelist quite like Misery, one of King’s best, in which a kidnapped writer is forced by a psychotic fan to write a book he didn’t want to write.
And So to Murder by John Dickson Carr
In this clever whodunit, a bestselling novelist travels to Hollywood to work on an adaptation and finds herself in a real-life murder mystery. Carr is a Golden Age writer who has been lost to the mists of time, but if you find that you’re rereading your old Agatha Christie novels, then give him a shot.
Laura by Vera Caspary
In this crime classic, a murder story is narrated by a number of different characters. The most entertaining section is the one written by the character of Waldo Lydecker. He’s a newspaper columnist, not a novelist, but he is a unique character and a true wordsmith.
The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy by Barbara Vine
Ruth Rendell, writing here as Barbara Vine, tells the story of a daughter discovering the truth about her late father, a successful writer. Like Rendell’s best books, the story is less about the crime and more about the psychology of her characters. In this one, she explores the idea of reinvention and how it ties to writing.
Death of a Mystery Writer by Robert Barnard
The mystery writer in the title is Sir Oliver Fairleigh-Stubbs, a true grotesque, the type of victim that no one, including the reader, minds seeing dispatched. Barnard was a master of light-hearted mystery novels, but always with a sharp satiric edge.
The Tremor of Forgery by Patricia Highsmith
One more by Patricia Highsmith and one of my absolute favorites of her books. It’s an oddity in the sense that almost nothing happens in this tale of an American writer trying to finish his novel at a rental apartment in Tunisia. But Highsmith builds a palpable level of dread. The only murder (or is it?) involves a very heavy typewriter and a very unfortunate head.