PhD thriller writer who loves true crime and sleazy Hollywood books
by Amy Sutherland
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
ABBOTT: I just finished Jeffrey Toobin’s Patty Hearst book, “American Heiress,” which was really compelling. I had read her memoir years ago, which I loved. Joan Didion also has a famous essay on her, which I read in college, when I read everything Didion wrote.
BOOKS: Any other famous people you are drawn to in your reading?
ABBOTT: Anything with outlaws. There was a great biography of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn, “Go Down Together.” He did one on Charles Manson recently, which was terrifying but really good. I also read a lot of entertainment biographies. I just read the third volume in Simon Callow’s biography of Orson Welles, which covered the ’50s and ’60s.
BOOKS: What other kinds of books do you read?
ABBOTT: I read a lot of crime fiction except when I’m in the latter stages of writing a book. Then I’ll read general fiction or literary fiction. I also read history, but it has to be character driven. I won’t read a Civil War book, but I maybe would read one about Ulysses S. Grant. I also like sleazy books about Hollywood. I love Kenneth Anger’s “Hollywood Babylon.” I don’t care whether it’s true or not.
BOOKS: What were you reading while you were writing your new book?
ABBOTT: I think I was reading Kate Atkinson’s “A God in Ruins.” She’s a big inspiration to me. I was also reading novels about prodigies and remember reading Lionel Shriver’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”
BOOKS: What is your favorite kind of true crime?
ABBOTT: In recent years there has been really great reported crime, such as “Lost Girls” by Robert Kolker. I read it twice, which I almost never do with true crime. “People Who Eat Darkness” by Richard Lloyd Parry is a very scary book. Those books also speak to larger issues in society. But I also like ripped-from-the-headlines true crime.
BOOKS: When did you start reading crime fiction?
ABBOTT: I wrote my dissertation on it. Before that I read some mysteries and James Ellroy. During graduate school I read the usual 20th-century authors, but when it came to my dissertation I wanted something that wasn’t a common subject. I started to read 1930s and 1940s crime fiction, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Now there’s no escaping.
BOOKS: Do you have pet peeves about crime writing?
‘Lately, I’ve been very intrigued by more gothic crime. We are having a resurgence of that.’
ABBOTT: I don’t like it when there are too many twists in the end. I also don’t generally like it when people from literary fiction write a crime novel and clearly have never read one. Martin Amis has a great one, “Night Train.” You could tell he loves the genre.
BOOKS: How would you characterize the crime fiction you like best?
ABBOTT: Lately, I’ve been very intrigued by more gothic crime. We are having a resurgence of that with Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” and Paula Hawkins’s “The Girl on the Train,’’ these books about violence in the home, in the family. I also love procedurals because I can’t do them, like Ace Atkins’s books.
BOOKS: What film adaptations of crime novels do you think have worked?
ABBOTT: I really liked “Gone Girl.” A lot of the Patricia Highsmith adaptations have been excellent, and the Elmore Leonard ones are wonderful. A bad example, though I love the book and the director, would be Brian De Palma’s film of “The Black Dahlia,” which has the wrong mix of energy.
BOOKS: What was the hardest book for you in grad school?
ABBOTT: I didn’t enjoy reading “Middlemarch,” which everyone says is the greatest book. I didn’t finish it, which was shameful. I did read Eliot’s shorter one, “The Mill on the Floss,’’ which I liked. I also finished “Moby-Dick” but I had a crush on the professor. That definitely helped.