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Mark Edwards: Books That Changed My Life

Mark Edwards: Books That Changed My Life

To celebrate the release of his new book, Keep Her Secret, author Mark Edwards shares the books that left a lasting impression on him

The Secret History by Donna Tartt 

I first read this in 1992, the summer between my second and third years at university, and have read it six or seven times since, as well as listening to the audiobook which is read by Donna herself. I have never been so absorbed by a book, so entranced, so blown away, and it is not only my favourite novel but my favourite anything!

"My dream as a writer is to make readers feel about my books the way I feel about The Secret History"

The Secret History is about a group of classics students at a small, liberal college in rural Vermont, based on the college Tartt attended. They fall under the spell of an enigmatic professor of Ancient Greek who only accepts a very small number of students each year. After an attempt to re-enact an ancient ritual goes horribly wrong, the group feel compelled to murder one of their own. The first half of the book leads up to this murder and the second deals with the terrible aftermath.

It's atmospheric, funny, full of the most beautiful prose, brainy and utterly compelling. Writing this is making me want to read it all over again and my dream as a writer is to make readers feel about my books the way I feel about The Secret History.

The Secret History Donna Tartt

The Fog by James Herbert 

When I was still at primary school, perhaps nine years old, my mum brought a copy of this pulpy horror novel home from the library. I picked it up and found myself hooked and horrified. A green fog emerges from a crack in the ground and everyone who comes into contact with it turns into a homicidal maniac. It’s a gonzo nightmare full of dreadful deeds and an incident with a pair of shears that has stayed with me forever. It was actually too terrible for nine-year-old me—I wasn’t ready—so I put it down, picking it up again when I was a teenager and very much ready.  

Reading James Herbert, along with Stephen King, sparked a life-long love of horror and dark fiction. Herbert’s stories were shocking and sick and transgressive. There was nothing else like this out there, even in the age of video nasties. I remember reading out some of the more explicit sections in the playground to entertain my friends. Ah, such innocent times! 

The Fog James Herbert

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy 

I’m not sure if this was the first crime novel I read back in the Nineties or if it was The Black Echo by Michael Connelly, but James Ellroy’s work had a big impact on me. That staccato prose, the rat-a-tat of his dialogue, the blend of fact and fiction, it was all intoxicating, with twist after twist, back before we came to expect them. I am pretty sure I missed at least one train stop because I was so engrossed and I soon became hooked on detective novels, though many of them felt a little anaemic after Ellroy.

"I am pretty sure I missed at least one train stop because I was so engrossed"

The second book in the LA Quartet, The Big Nowhere, is possibly even better, but it was Dahlia that showed me how powerful crime fiction could be.  

The Black Dahlia James Ellroy

A Simple Plan by Scott Smith

Two brothers and their friend find a crashed plane in the woods. Inside the plane is a case full of money. They concoct a plan: they will wait a few months and if no one comes looking for the money they’ll divide it up and keep it. They just have to promise not to tell anyone. 

Of course, it all goes horribly wrong in this novel about greed, betrayal and good people doing terrible things, events spiralling out of control until there’s no way back. A Simple Plan was a big influence on me. It’s modern noir with everyman characters getting into a lethal mess. I love it.  

A Simple Plan Scott Smith

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I don’t only read dark stuff, you know. Wild is a beautiful, hopeful work of non-fiction in which a young, ill-prepared woman, whose mother recently died, sets out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Her boots are too small, her backpack is too heavy and she is alone and clueless. But along the way, she finds a way to look to the future with optimism.

"I don’t only read dark stuff, you know"

It’s the perfect blend of emotional journey and travel memoir, written in a light, funny style. It almost made me want to hike the PCT myself. 

Keep Her Secret Mark Edwards

Keep Her Secret by Mark Edwards is published June 1, 2023, by Thomas & Mercer

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