Top 10 books narrated by a killer

Peter Swanson
Sunday 08 March 2015 09:00

Peter Swanson is a writer who has always been drawn to books with unreliable narrators. Spoilers ahead – although one of these books only wants you to think the narrator is a killer. You'll have to read them all to find out which.

1. 'Lolita' (1955) by Vladimir Nabokov

Humbert Humbert, the narrator, murders Clare Quilty, who took Lolita away from him. While Lolita is not a traditional thriller, it is one of the truly thrilling novels of the 20th century.

2. 'The Soft Touch' (1981) by John D MacDonald

An old war buddy swings by and offers narrator Jerry Jamison a way out of his boring life. The final chapter is one of the darkest, coldest endings I've ever read.

3. 'Laura' (1942) by Vera Caspary

One of the great detective novels of the 1940s. Several narrators take turns telling the story of the murder of a young woman. Caspary does an amazing job with the narrative styles.

4. 'Double Indemnity' (1943) by James M Cain

The movie version by Billy Wilder is one of the great American films, and if you've only seen the movie, prepare yourself for a very different, and disturbing, ending.

5. 'Gone Girl' (2012) by Gillian Flynn

Told by two alternating, unreliable, narrators whose marriage has gone wrong. The reader doesn't know if a murder has taken place, let alone who did it. The movie is good, too.

6. 'Endless Night' (1967) by Agatha Christie

A late novel, and more psychological suspense than classic whodunit. There's romance, a gypsy curse – and murder, of course.

7. 'The Murder of Roger Ackroyd' (1926) by Agatha Christie

The book that put Christie on the map is a typical village murder mystery, but what makes it stand out is some clever narrative trickery.

8. 'Tough Guys Don't Dance' (1984) by Norman Mailer

Boozy Tim Madden wakes up to find blood on his car seat, a tattoo he doesn't remember getting, and a severed head. Mailer has huge fun with the pulp storyline.

9. 'The Killer Inside Me' (1952) by Jim Thompson

The narrator, a small-town sheriff named Lou Ford, is a psychopathic sadist. What is so disturbing is that Lou knows exactly who he is, and isn't bothered by it.

10. 'Darkly Dreaming Dexter' (2008) by Jeff Lindsay

Atmospheric novel adapted as the long-running Showtime series. Dexter, the serial killer who hunts other serial killers, is complex, unique and fairly funny.

'The Kind Worth Killing' by Peter Swanson, is out now (£14.99, Faber)

More: The 50 books every child should read