The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (Oxford University Press, $14). Dumas’s masterpiece has everything: adventure, intrigue, romance, suspense, pathos, redemption. I read it when I was 9 years old. Wondering what it took to create something so wonderful set me on the path to becoming a writer.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (Dover, $3.50). Another childhood score. Giant fish, submarine, heart-stopping peril, obsessive captain. What’s not to love?
Guillotine Party and Other Stories by James T. Farrell (out of print). Found this one on my parents’ bookshelves. Totally inappropriate for an 11-year-old, but I loved it. Farrell was a master of gritty, urban realism that transcends place and time. Novelists familiar with his work appreciate him as a writer’s writer, but unfortunately he’s faded into obscurity.
The Underground Man by Ross Macdonald (Vintage, $14). Back in my starving failed writer/grad student days, I wandered into a thrift shop and found a used copy of this crime novel, which is set against the backdrop of a Southern California forest fire. The prose was tough but elegant, the descriptions were vivid, the characters compelling. Getting to know Macdonald helped me focus in on what I wanted to explore as a novelist: family psychopathology amid the palms and the swimming pools.
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy (Grand Central, $7.50). James and I were hanging out when he wrote this novel, and I think it’s among his finest. Dark, down, and dirty, meticulously plotted, an intriguing spin on an unsolved murder that has fascinated true-crime buffs for decades.
Gun Games by Faye Kellerman (Morrow, $26). My wife’s newest won’t come out until January 2012, but I got to read it before anyone, and trust me, it’s her best. A baffling series of crimes, a heartbreaking romance, and Faye’s unique take on family relationships gone awry.
—Jonathan Kellerman has just published the 26th book in his Alex Delaware series. When the Bough Breaks launched the series in 1985. The newest installment is Mystery, named for a murder victim Delaware encounters hours before her death