I feel like a hunter when I’m in a book shop. I get the same feeling when I’m in a record shop. I want something. I must have something. It’s there somewhere, hiding, so I’ve got to find it. That means exploring the surroundings. When I get a book or a record/CD that I didn’t know I wanted, but somehow knew I needed, it’s amazing. Over the years I’ve discovered a lot of books that I’ve literally taken home because I like the cover art or the blurb at the back or I trust the publisher. Not all of these books have the commercial appeal I felt they deserved. Not that I can bestow that upon them. I wished. However, here are a few of these books for you to take a chance on – and I hope you do.
Oh Marina Girl by Graham Lironi
This is the absolute essence of cult, with a real punk spirit about it. The title is an anagram of the author’s name, which isn’t as self-indulgent as you’d think after reading the novel. In fact, it really is the first clue in a fiendishly diabolic crime story. Published by Contraband, it tells of an editor of the letters page at a Glasgow newspaper who starts to receive hate mail. Then it gets worse. Someone is kidnapped and all because the paper printed a review of a book the kidnapper didn’t like. And that’s just the start of a very complicated meta nightmare…
I’m not sure why this book isn’t more celebrated. It really is one of the finest Scottish novels of the last decade, but somehow was too smart or too strange to really impact in any meaningful way. Graham Lironi is apparently working on something else and, with luck, he finds a publisher willing to put it out. File under #TooCultToSmashTheCharts.
Mesopotamia by Arthur Nersesian
I make no secret of the fact I worship Arthur Nersesian’s work. He’s always there, somewhere in the background, writing away, putting out cult novels that deserve mainstream attention but never quite make it. His biggest success is The Fuck-Up, which is available in Waterstones here in Scotland. His other books take time and patience to track down, coming all the way from America. The books are always worth the wait. Mesopotamia is one of Arthur’s less known works but I loved it. A trashy tabloid reporter tries to find herself in a small town obsessed with Elvis. One murder and a twist you won’t see coming makes this satirical, biting book worthy of adoration. Files under #ElvisLives.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
Bad haircuts, terrible clothes, wonderful record stores, clunky VCRs, and…demonic possession? Fundamentally, this is a novel about friendship and the powerful bond between two girls when they’re forced to fight pure evil at high school. It’s utterly charming and written with real heart. File under #LikeOhMyGodShesTheDevil
Suckers by Anne Billson
I read this at high school and became obsessed with Anne Billson’s take on the artifice of the ’80s. This is a novel starring the most hateful protagonist in fiction yet somehow you can’t help but root for her as she terrorises her neighbour and makes her best friend’s girlfriend completely miserable. And that’s before the vampires arrive to show everyone what ‘greed is good’ really means…
This novel should have been massive. It wasn’t so long ago we had vampires bleeding pop culture dry. Suckers should have been on Channel 4 as a miniseries. If you can find the book, or read digitally, get it. File under #TheLadyIsAVamp
Popular Hits Of The Showa Era by Ryu Murakami
This book isn’t typically regarded as one of Murakami’s best but I like it simply because the premise is so ridiculous, the plot more so. If you’ve read my earlier books you’ll know I appreciate silliness mixed with sudden violence. Popular Hits Of The Showa Era tells the story of a group of young lads who dress up in silly costumes and sing in their flat. They’re distant cousins of The Droogs but with a love of karaoke. Unfortunately they cross a gang of middle-aged women and war is declared, the battle eventually leading to mass murder.
Yes, a typical Ryu Murakami novel. File under #NotHarukiButRyuMurakami
Bad Penny Blues by Cathi Unsworth
I think music journalists made good novelists. Cathi Unsworth worked for Melody Maker back when magazines existed and music was good. This book is apparently based on the Jack The Stripper murders of the ’60s but also reads as an elegy to London, the hippest city in the world during that time. The writing is wonderful, the plot gripping, and the book zips by in no time at all. I’ve always been a big fan of Cathi’s fiction, and she is one of those rare authors who has a 100% hit rate with her books. I’m never ever disappointed with her work. File under #ILikeMyMysteriesABitStrange