Tony Parsons: Questions and Answers on Crime Fiction

Tony Parsons: Questions and Answers on Crime Fiction

My favourite scary word is eviscerate – to remove the entrails of something living. You just know that’s going to hurt in the morning.

My favourite crime story is by Elmore Leonard – I love all his great crime novels, but best of all is a short story called When The Women Come Out To Dance. It’s about a former stripper who is married to a cosmetic surgeon and when she decides she wants him dead, she hires a Colombian housekeeper whose husband died in mysterious circumstances – and rather a lot of wet concrete. There is a beautiful internal logic to the story, and Elmore Leonard is at the absolute peak of his powers here – whiplash dialogue, great characters, and he keeps you holding on to the very last line, which has a twist that you just don’t see coming.

I am influenced by my memories of the uniformed cops and detectives I met when I did a journalism piece out of 27 Savile Row – London’s West End Central. That was 30 years ago. The memory of the decency, humour and courage of the young men and women I met there stays with me. And I am influenced by the crimes that are in my head. When I see a picture of conspicuous privilege – dining clubs at fine universities, the blessed sons of expensive private schools, rich and powerful men who think they own the world – I can’t help thinking; what if somebody started cutting their throats?

I prefer Sherlock to Miss Marpe because he is part of his author’s soul in a way that I don’t think Miss Marple really is – like all the greatest fictional characters, Holmes comes from somewhere very real inside his creator.

If I could have dinner with any fictional character I think it would have to be Dr Hannibal Lecter – I am sure he would be civilised, sophisticated, amusing company – as long as I wasn’t actually on the menu.

I love writers who honour the traditions of crime and thriller writing while giving it a fresh spin. Robert B. Parker was a lovely writer who found a way to write like Raymond Chandler without it feeling like pastiche. James Sallis has a beautiful lyrical edge to bloody action – he is like a poet who writes thrillers, and his novel Drive was both a great book and brilliant film. Lee Child always knocks it out of the park with Jack Reacher. P.D. James is part of a tradition that stretches back to Conan Doyle but she still feels like a part of the modern world. Dennis Lehane. Ian Rankin. Patricia Cornwall. Peter James probably writes with more authenticity than anyone. Stephen King has one of the greatest imaginations on our planet. And Ian Fleming – because he is a writer who invented a character so vivid that he will last as long as Macbeth or Scrooge. And yes, Charles Dickens – he wrote great action. The opening chapter of Great Expectations, where Pip gets grabbed in the graveyard by the escaped convict Magwitch, is a scene worthy of Karin Slaughter.

I love PI Philip Marlowe in the Raymond Chandler classics, because he had everything – a wonderful laconic eye, a sense of humour, courage and yet there’s a vulnerability, you know that he would fall hard for the right woman. And I also loved FBI rookie Clarice Starling, because she always feels out of her depth going up against Hannibal Lecter, she is so young and inexperienced and damaged by her past – all the odds are stacked against her, so you are really rooting for her. I think Thomas Harris will be seen as one of the great writers of the twentieth century.

I think I am most afraid of losing the people I love. I am afraid of losing my family. In fact, it is the only thing that scares me.

The greatest unsolved mystery is the identity of Jack the Ripper.