The Outsiders by SE Hinton made me want to be a writer when I was a teenager. The Great Gatsby made me want to write in the first person. But, James Lee Burke’s Last Car to Elysian Fields was the book that made me want to write Borderlands. Here’s Amazon’s description of the book:
It is a rainy late-summer's night in New Orleans. Detective Dave Robicheaux is about to confront the man who may have savagely assaulted his friend, Father Jimmie Dolan, a Catholic priest who's always at the centre of controversy. But things are never as they seem and soon Robicheaux is back in New Iberia, probing a car crash that killed three teenage girls. A grief-crazed father and a maniacal, complex assassin are just a few of the characters Robicheaux meets as he is drawn deeper into a web of sordid secrets and escalating violence. A masterful exploration of the troubled side of human nature and the dark corners of the heart, peopled by familiar characters such as P.I. Clete Purcel and Robicheaux's old flame Theodosia LeJeune, LAST CAR TO ELYSIAN FIELDS is vintage Burke - moody, hard-hitting, with his trademark blend of human drama and relentless noir suspense.
Why it appealed to me? Beyond the stunning writing and the deep rooted sense of place and time? Beyond the sense of decency and anger at the way in which humans treat each other, and especially treat those unable to speak for themselves? There was one scene in particular. Late in the book, Robicheaux jogging in the park at dawn, believes he is having a heart attack and is going to die:
‘Is this the way it comes? I thought – not with a clicking sound ands a brilliant flash of light on a night trail in Vietnam, or with a high powered round fired by a sniper in a compact automobile, but instead with a racing of the heart and a shortening of the breath in a black-green deserted park smudged by mist and threaded by a tidal stream.’
I remember reading that scene and feeling sad at the thought that Robicheaux might not live to fight another day, almost as if I was losing a friend with whom, in my reading, I had spent a lot of time. Rebus was retiring, Morse had died, now Robicheaux. So I decided to write a new series that I would ant to read, with a detective I could understand, just in case all the other detectives died. And that was the catalyst that finally pushed me to write Borderlands.
As for Robicheaux – he lived to fight another day, thankfully.
So, anyone else want to suggest what book most influenced you to write your first novel?