In no particular order my favourite ten books. I'm not saying they're the gretest novels ever written, and most of them are pretty easy going, but they're the ones I'm able to enjoy time and time again so for sheer entertainment value they make the list. Jane Austen can go swing. There's a number of great books not on the list, simply because I've tried to stick to one book by each author. A few others, by Tolkien, John LeCarre, Robert Harris, Graham Greene, Michael Palin, Hugh Laurie and others should be on there, but I tried to limit myself to ten.


What to say on Kinky Friedman? It's so hard to sum up a Hispanic Jewish country and western singer turned sherrif turned detective author turned policitican and would-be Texas Govenor in one simple sentence. Well, when you hear his band, the Texas Jewboys, released songs like 'They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore' and 'Get Your Biscuits In The Oven and Your Buns In The Bed', then you at least have some idea of what to expect. Kinky Friedman is both author and main character in these stories about a country and western singer turned private eye. Not only will he manage to keep you laughing like a drain, with his observations on life that owe as much to Groucho Marx as they do Raymond Chandler, but these mysteries themselves are deviously plotted and guaranteed to keep you guessing 'til the very last page as Friedman casts himself as Sam Spade and Sherlock Holmes with his real life friends making up a close circle of Watsons.

If you don't know anything about the infamous Victorian war hero Sir Harry Flashman, then this is an ideal introduction. Lifted from ‘Tom Brown's Schooldays', McDonald Fraser has chronicled Flashman's adventures in a series of novels, dropping the character into some of the major political hotspots of the Victorian age. Essentially two stories, tied together with the common thread of the American West, Harry Flashman - womanizer, cheat, thief, coward, Knight of the Bath, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and Victoria Cross - winds his way across America with the '49ers, commanding a wagon train of invalids and whores. As with all the Flashman novels, it takes most of its cues from actual events and historical detail and acts as a veritable "Who's Who" of the time as Kit Carson, Gallatin, feared Apache chief Mangas Colorado and Geronimo all appear. The second half of the book has Harry return West twenty years later, to run into the likes of Custer, Spotted Tail, Crazy Horse, Anson Mills and Wild Bill Hickock as he stumbles from crisis to crisis and from Little Big Horn to Deadwood. As is always the case with the Flashman novels, the historical detail is fascinating and Flashman is written truly as a man of his time - modern sensibilities are forgotten and often the tone of the characters is uncomfortable, but Flash makes an interestingly balanced narrator - not a Dances With Wolves interpretation of all whites being evil and Indians being innocent. The shades of grey, coupled with lashings of humour and make for a rollicking good read.
THE BOTTOMS (Joe R. Lansdale)
Set in Deep East Texas during the Great Depression, "The Bottoms" is a wonderful coming-of-age tale about life in what many would regard as simpler times. However, the novel suggests that no time is ever truly simple as a heinous serial killer stalks the low lying lands around the Sabine River, and the horror and racial tension of the times. When the narrator, eleven year old Harry and his younger sister Tom stumble upon the naked, mutilated body of a black woman, they believe the killer to be the dreaded Goat Man, of local legend. As the town's racial tensions increase along with the number of murder victims, secrets long kept silent are revealed and Harry began to learn things a child should never have to know. Joe Landsale has written a riveting mystery and a wonderful novel of rural life in the early 1930s. Harry's interactions with his sister, his changing relationship with his father, and his own story of personal growth and loss of innocence are alone worth the read. Descriptions of the landscape, mouthwatering food, people, feelings, the weather, are written with great mastery and an eye for detail.
GUARDS! GUARDS! (Terry Pratchett)
The perfect 'entry level' novel for the Discworld series. 'Guards! Guards!' is probably the most fun Pratchett novel, mainly because the characters of the almost defunct Ankh Morpork city guard come alive from the page. Okay, it's pretty much a fantasy novel - dragons, magic, mythical legends and sprawling sub-medieval cities - and while these make up the actual plot, it's far more entertaining when the characters are merely reacting to each other and the situation. Corporals Nobby and Carrot, Sgt. Colon and Cpt. Vimes are probably the best of Pratchett's creations, definitely not your average heroes. They're the Keystone Cops of the fantasy novel, and it's a tribute to Pratchett's writing that he manages to marry genuinely funny fantasy situations with all kinds of slapstick, wordplay and vaudeville humour.
Just who invented punk? Well John Lydon thinks it was him, and he definitely isn't about to let anyone else get the credit. By equal measures blackly comic and darkly depressing, the true story of the Sex Pistols by Johnny 'Rotten' Lydon is a compulsive read. Lydon is no doubt a genius, and the only problem is he knows it too. The story of the Sex Pistols from the inside would make wonderful reading, even if it wasn't for Lydon's neat and bitter one liners. Lydon certainly isn't likable, he refuses to give anyone else any credit for any success he's ever had and verbally dissects everyone and everything he's come into contact with, but despite this he does manage to dismiss the myth of punk rockers being dumb and untalented. He's neither. It should be compulsive reading for 'Greenday' or 'Offspring' or any other bubble gum pretend punksters. This is the real stuff.
Well, the Hitchhikers series are probably the finest science fiction books ever devised. Okay, they're spoofs, but inventions like the Infinite Improbability Drive are concepts that Star Trek would kill for. Pushed to pick one of the series I'd have to go for this one, the third of the series and the only one with an actual story line as such. Let's face it , any of the first three books are pure brilliance, but the third book isn't as widely recognised, so it's my choice. As far as saviours of the galaxy go, the improbably named Arthur Dent. Ford Prefect, Slartibartfast and Zaphod Beeblebrox are probably the last people you'd pick. Still, they do have the assistance, or more likely hindrance of Marvin the Paranoid Android and the oft reincarnated Agrajag, the two finest comedy science fiction characters ever.
I have a confession to make. I only got into P. G. Wodehouse after Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie were in the TV adaptations of his Jeeves and Wooster stories. Until then I'd been entirely oblivious to this, or any country's, best humourist. The Code of the Woosters is probably his greatest work, featuring his greatest characters - Bertie Wooster, the confirmed bachelor who makes up in enthusiasm what he lacks in wit, and his manservant Jeeves, his suave and immeasurably intelligent guardian angel. Wodehouse is the master of comic timing and there is no doubt that he has influence more great comic writers than any other author of the 20th Century. I kid you not. There is simply nothing to dislike about these books, they are pretty much perfect, and anyone who doesn't laugh needs an entire personality transplant.
A favourite with the critics, Nick Hornby is a surprisingly talented author, not relying on sensationalism or gimmicks to secure his place in this list. High Fidelity was his first novel, but his only other, About A Boy, is just as compulsive. Dealing with the breakup of a relationship through the eyes of Rob, the owner of a failing record shop and average bloke. The book does tell a story, but instead of emphasis on events what really counts is what they say about the relationships between men and women, men and men, men and their parents, and probably most importantly, men and their record collections. In short, a very clever novel, that manages to avoid any pretensions and never makes the mistake of -knowing- it's clever.
THE GAP SERIES (Stephen Donaldson)
On the whole Science Fiction is a pretty turgid creation. In days of yore it was a chance to create entire new worlds and populate them with strange and exotic creatures. Thanks to Arthur C. Clarke and later Star Trek, science fiction has actually become tedious tosh, with the only difference between us and the aliens being a slightly bigger nose. Stephen Donaldson, however, has managed to create a future with it's own politics, science, diplomacy, piracy and geography and actually make it worth reading. Okay, so I'm cheating rather, because the Gap series is five books in all, but what the hey. Leading you in gently with a tale of space pirates on the edges of the galaxy, it isn't long before aliens, insane business tycoons and devious radical police start turning up and make the whole thing even more enjoyable. Not fun by any means, even harrowing in parts, but a fantastic read. If only all Sci Fi was this good.
KISS KISS (Roald Dahl)
Macabre, revolting, disturbing...and that's just his childrens books. the vicious humour that kids love so much is distilled and convoluted into Dahl's short stories for adults, and 'Kiss Kiss' is the best collection of these. Pretty much all the stories were filmed for his 'Tales of the Unexpected' series, but they are far superior in written form. From the perfect murder through brains in jars to homicidal landladies who practice taxidermy on their unfortunate residents, Dahl's mischievous and black humour never fails to shock and surprise. Okay, he is more readily associated with children's stories, but he is also one of the best short story writers around, if not -the- best. If you like your humour black and devious unexpected endings, then this is the book for you.
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