Inspiration comes in many forms. For the authors whose essays form the elegant "Books to Die For" (Emily Bestler Books/Atria, $29.99) that inspiration comes from other writers.
Irish authors John Connolly and Declan Burke have assembled 119 top-notch authors from 20 countries to discuss which writers' words encouraged them to become storytellers. Each of the anthology's thoughtful essays shows us why an author's work inspires another while giving insight into the essayist who was inspired. The contemporary authors also put in historical context the crime fiction genre, the authors and the eras in which they wrote, which range from the mid-1800s to just a couple of years ago.
For Michael Connelly, it began with a viewing at his college's student union of the Robert Altman film "The Long Goodbye," based on Raymond Chandler's novel. Connelly, whose 20th novel "The Black Box" comes out in November, left the film a fan and soon devoured each of Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels.
But it's not "The Long Goodbye" that continues to inspire Connelly. Instead, it's Chandler's "The Little Sister" with its evocative descriptions of Los Angeles. Before he begins his own novels, Connelly re-reads that book's Chapter 13.
"In four pages Chandler teaches reader and writer what it is to write for the ages. What it is to create art," Connelly writes. In turn, Connelly's 1992 Edgar Award-winning "The Black Echo" inspired co-editor Connolly who calls it "a stunningly accomplished piece of work."
Connolly, author of 16 novels, including the Charlie Parker novels, also chooses "The Chill," written in 1964 by Ross Macdonald, whom he calls "the genre's first great poet of empathy." Canadian Linwood Barclay ("Trust Your Eyes") cites Macdonald's "The Goodbye Look" as he discusses a correspondence and one dinner meeting with the creator of Lew Archer. Barclay was just 20 years old at the time, and has never forgotten Macdonald's kindness.
A revealing essay on the maturation of an idea comes from Joseph Wambaugh, who credits meeting Truman Capote with influencing the then young cop to write "The Onion Field."
Laura Lippman chooses James M. Cain's "criminally obscure "Love's Lovely Counterfeit." Karin Slaughter's praise of "The Dead Letter," by Metta Fuller Victor, also is an impassioned look at how often women writers have been ignored through the generations.
Inspiration knows no geographical boundaries. San Franciscan Kelli Stanley and British Lauren Henderson both honor Agatha Christie. Dashiell Hammett gets a nod from Mark Billingham, who lives in London, and David Peace, who resides in Japan. Americans Sara Paretsky and Rita Mae Brown choose Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Miami's James W. Hall, who writes the Thorn series, found a kinship in Elmore Leonard's "LaBrava," also set in Miami Beach.
Gary Phillips delivers an overview of "The Scene" by Clarence Cooper Jr., a largely forgotten black author who, despite acclaim for his early work died penniless at age 44.
"Books to Die For" is a sumptuous exploration of some of the best mystery authors of our time that showcases their passion for writing and their heartfelt tributes to their fellow writers. "Books to Die For" is a resource readers will want to keep for decades.