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Edgar Nominee Gabriel Cohen Shares His Crime Fiction Must-Reads

The author of the Jack Leightner crime series spills about the books that most inspire him.

gabriel cohen bookshelf
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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

Glancing over the crime novels on my bookshelves, I notice several books that influenced me in deep ways as a writer, and a couple that especially impressed me with their vividness and energy, particularly in the opening pages.

gabriel cohen bookshelf

Eight Million Ways to Die

By Lawrence Block

This fifth book in Block’s Matthew Scudder series had a major impact in several ways: It showed how a place (New York City) could effectively become a character in a crime series; it showed how a protagonist could change and develop over the arc of a series, rather than remaining static; and it proved that character development could be at least as important as plot, a lesson I have taken to heart. It ends on a surprisingly personal and moving note.

gabriel cohen bookshelf

The George Smiley Series

By John le Carré

As Block did, Le Carré made the character of his protagonist the true center of his series, and I appreciate the way he moved away from a typical hard-drinking, wise-cracking, bare-knuckles kind of crime novel protagonist to create a completely different—and compelling—sort of hero.

Related: In from the Cold: 13 Thrilling Books for John le Carré Fans 

gabriel cohen bookshelf


By David Simon

This nonfiction book by the creator of The Wire (one of the two greatest TV crime series) was hugely helpful in my writing because it showed how “homicide detective” is a real career embodied by real people. It does a great job of answering a couple questions I’ve tried to answer in my books: What’s it like to work such an incredibly strange gig every day, and how does it affect you as a human being?

Related: These Heart Racing Thriller Audiobooks Will Keep You Guessing Until the Very End 

gabriel cohen bookshelf

Freaky Deaky

By Elmore Leonard

If the Internet can be believed, this 1988 novel was Leonard’s own favorite of his books. It’s particularly memorable for the classic first chapter, which very effectively (and humorously) juxtaposes the bizarre extremes of a career that deals with crime and the humdrum ordinariness of its daily grind.

gabriel cohen bookshelf

Beat the Reaper

By Josh Bazell

We know we’re dealing with a very different kind of protagonist from the first paragraph, when a mugger presses a gun against the base of our antihero’s skull and he observes that, “It actually feels sort of good, in an accu-pressure kind of way.” This 2009 debut impressed me with its originality, its humor, and its crackling, zingy energy.

Featured photo of Gabriel Cohen: Alchetron