Five books

Five books that inspired crime-writing duo Nicci French

Nicci Gerard and Sean French

 

The Woman in White

Wilkie Collins

The book begins with an unforgettable image, like a feverish dream, of a woman coming out of the darkness of a Hampstead night and then disappearing into it again. Collins invented so much of the psychological thriller in one go: the compelling, grotesque master villain; the unconventional heroine, whom the villain half-loves, half-hates; the perilous vulnerability of our normal identity. It still packs a huge punch, and just a few years later, Collins basically invented the detective story with The Moonstone.

 

Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë

The secret to creating a suspense thriller? ‘Torment a woman,’ said Alfred Hitchcock. Jane Eyre is not a thriller (though it has inspired thrillers, most notably Rebecca) but Bronte creates unforgettable drama and emotion by creating a doughty heroine and putting every possible obstacle in her path. A book that grows in power and strangeness with every rereading.

 

Presumed Innocent

Scott Turow

Turow’s extraordinary debut novel shows that you can write about the Chicago legal system with the gritty realism of Saul Bellow and yet have a plot (and a final twist) that even Agatha Christie never surpassed. This book could scarcely be more different from anything we have written, but it was one of the key books that inspired us to write together.

 

 

Karlsson on the Roof

Astrid Lindgren

A children’s story set in 1950s Stockholm may seem to have much connection to our millennial psychological thrillers, but wait. Firstly we both loved it as children and love it still. Secondly, it’s about the strangeness of what lies beneath (or in this case, above) the most humdrum of lives. And thirdly, we borrowed the name for our police officer.

 

To the Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf

Connecting this to the thriller form is a real challenge! Of course, Woolf brilliantly uses narrative points of view to show how we are all strangers to each other, we are all alone. Life is a sort of investigation to try to find each other’s secrets, even a sort of detective story. Well, maybe. But really, it’s just a book we both love. Beautifully written, modernism with a heart, and Mrs Ramsay is (with Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice and Rosalind in As You Like It) one of the most fascinating and lovable female characters in literature.

 

More about the authors

Related features