Daphne Du Maurier
I always feel that Daphne Du Maurier is an author who has been misrepresented as some flowery romance novelist, writing about breathy heroines and boats, though maybe if you had only read her debut The Loving Spirit you could be forgiven for the assumption. In actual fact she is one of the masterminds of darker fiction. Rebecca is a gothic masterpiece and My Cousin Rachel is the perfect example of how an unreliable character is created where you cannot guess someone’s motives (or what will happen next) page by page, sheer brilliance. She is also a master of short stories: The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock was a huge fan, adapting several of her works), The Apple Tree, Don’t Look Now and The Blue Lenses are must-reads too.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The creator of one of my favourite characters ever, Mr Sherlock Holmes, and one of the main reasons that I became the reader I am today, as my great uncle would memorise these tales for me on long distance walking holidays. As well as being gripping mysteries of murder and all sorts of other shenanigans in the Victorian period, they also give a fascinating insight into the era. The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Speckled Band will get any Sherlock novice hooked.
There are only two authors who can make me laugh out loud, and to the point where I have either cried on public transport or woken someone up making the bed jiggle with my giggles late at night. One of them in Nancy Mitford whose – sometimes acerbic – wit in novels such as The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate is just marvellous. What makes these doubly fascinating is their autobiographical elements which give an insight into the upper echelons of society in the 20s, 30s and 40s. Wondair, do admit!
I am going to say something outrageous now, and some people may never forgive me for this but I think Wilkie Collins wipes the floor with Charles ‘paid per word’ Dickens, as I like to call him. Collins writes gripping, twisting and suspense filled mysteries teeming with rich characters, incest, bigamy, murder, insanity – you name it. I think he is the true master of the ‘Sensation novel’ and eminently more readable than some of his more famous contemporaries.
What I think I love most about Muriel Spark is not only the amount of her works that you have to discover once you become hooked, it is also the diversity of what she writes about and how in her shorter fiction there are layers upon layers going on in the background. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Driver’s Seat easily make her the Queen of the Novella.
She wrote Jane Eyre. Enough said.
The Queen of Crime and rightfully so. One of the main things I love about the novels of Agatha Christie is that no matter how hard I try I can never figure out who did it, unless it’s a ‘whydunnit’ in which case the motive is just as tricky. They also shine a light on many of the issues of the times they were written, and despite the fact they are incredibly readable (and you want to read them in a sitting or two) the darkness of human nature is always at their heart, which I like. Miss Marple’s mysteries are probably my favourites but for a very different side to Agatha I can’t recommend Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? more (very wry and a real romp).
I mentioned earlier there are only two authors who can make me belly laugh out loud: Sue Townsend is the second of these. She is also one of the reasons that I became addicted to books after my mother passed me the first in the Adrian Mole novels, I then couldn’t stop reading them – and laughing out loud, a lot. I love how Sue Townsend can look at the political/social/economical/environmental issues, the things we people on the street are worried about, and make a point about them using the power and irony of humour.
Some people might find it odd that I have chosen Graham Greene as I have a real love-hate relationship with him. I either really, really, really love his books or I don’t. Even when I might not like some of his works the writing always blows my mind, as does the breadth of what he can write, from comedies like The Ministry of Fear to spy novels like The Heart of the Matter, to disturbing tales like Brighton Rock, to heartbreaking works of genius like The End of the Affair. He was also my Gran’s favourite novelist and without her love of books, through authors like him, both my mother and I might not have been such big readers.
Ellen Wood (or Mrs Henry Wood)
A fair amount of you might be saying ‘who?’ Ellen Wood is a genius and sadly one who has been far too easily forgotten both by readers and the publishing world. During the late 1880s she was more widely read, and I am not making this up, than Charles Dickens, and published 49 works in 30 years, some of which Leo Tolstoy himself wrote in praise of. Alas most are out of print now (someone please bring them back) bar her most famous work East Lynne which is a gripping tale, of a salacious and sensational nature, of a town in Victorian England – it is MARVELLOUS! I always used to point her out when I was a tour guide at Highgate Cemetery and demand people went and got a copy, I strongly urge you to. Go, now!
Simon Savidge is a freelance journalist, blogger and book addict. He writes the (almost daily) blog Savidge Reads. He regularly contributes to several literature based magazines and lifestyle magazines. He is co-founder and Honorary Director of The Green Carnation Prize, you can also hear him on The Readers and You Wrote The Book podcasts. For full reviews of these, other Fiction Uncovered books and more do visit Simon’s blog Savidge Reads.