Creating the superb TV series Foyle’s War would be enough of a credit for most writers, so it is a measure of Horowitz’s talent that he has also written a dozen books about Alex Rider, the teenage M.I.6 spy; a pair of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond novels at the behest of their authors’ executors; and his fiendishly clever send-up of publishers and mystery writers, Magpie Murders. Here, Horowitz—whose latest book, The Sentence Is Death, is out now from Harper—shares four of his favorite novels.
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
I am a huge admirer of Ishiguro’s and can only marvel at the elegance and purity of his prose and his unique, slightly oblique vision of the world. This novel, part horror story, part dystopian fantasy, is quite simply the saddest book I have ever read. Its main characters aren’t even human—they’re clones, and it soon becomes clear that their situation is hopeless. But it’s in their journey, as they come to an understanding of their hopelessness, that they become fully human. The final sequence, with the narrator reflecting on the past as she walks, alone, on the Norfolk coast, is unforgettable.
Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
I have read the complete works of Dickens three times in my life, and each time I find something new to admire. Isn’t that the essential hallmark of great literature? Oliver Twist, Dickens’s second novel, astonishes not just with its memorable cast of characters—Fagin, the Artful Dodger, Bill Sikes, Monks—but with the clash of humor, adventure, and a furious social conscience. Much of the book is set in and around my home in Clerkenwell, central London, and I had no idea just how vile and putrid the area was in the 1830s. The last night of Fagin in his condemned cell and the death of Sikes (followed by that of his dog) are thrilling. And when Dickens wrote this book, he was just 25!
The Dead Zone, by Stephen King
When authors are asked to describe their favorite books, they tend toward literary fiction—but I have no qualms in recommending this superb 1979 supernatural thriller by one of America’s greatest writers. It has a terrific structure with a final reveal, the “dead zone” of the title, that is completely satisfying, and a central character, the vile politician Greg Stillson, who couldn’t be more predictive of the direction in which American politics has since gone. Like Dickens, King perfectly captures his age. And Dickens, of course, was a commercial writer, too.
Keep the Aspidistra Flying, by George Orwell
Should Gordon Comstock eke out a living as a poet, or should he continue to work with the financial security (and the comfortable life evoked by a potted plant on a windowsill) which is offered by the New Albion Advertising Company? Should he give in to what he calls “the money-god”? Orwell identifies a question that every writer faces, and certainly it is one that has always exercised me. Everyone knows Animal Farm and 1984, but this small, very personal novel set in 1930s London goes to the heart of what creative writing is all about.