A fan of the mysteries of family
Joe Finder moved to Boston years ago to get a master’s in Russian studies at Harvard University. He thought he might become a professor, maybe a spy. Instead he became a best-selling mystery writer. He reads from his newest, “Guilty Minds,” at 7 p.m., Tuesday at Brookline Booksmith.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
FINDER: I’m just finishing “Die of Shame” by Mark Billingham, a British crime writer and a good one. On my large to-be-read pile I have Claire Messud’s “The Emperor’s Children.” There’s also a biography about the crime writer Ross Macdonald by Tom Nolan. I like reading biographies about people who do creative things. Not long ago I read Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens. It was interesting to see what a crappy father he was and how he had this incredible work ethic. He could work through the most tragic events, like when one of his children died.
BOOKS: What other books in that vein have you read recently?
FINDER: I loved “The Man with the Golden Typewriter,” which is a collection of letters by Ian Fleming. I gained a respect for him I didn’t have. I always assumed he had an inflated ego, but he didn’t. He thought what he was doing was small but worthy.
BOOKS: Who are your go-to crime writers?
FINDER: Lee Child, Robert Harris, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald.
BOOKS: Are there any crime writers you wish were better known?
FINDER: William Landay, Megan Abbott, and Chris Pavone, who wrote “The Travelers.”
BOOKS: What were some of the first mysteries you read?
FINDER: These are the books and writers that made me want to write mysteries. Ian Fleming, Graham Greene’s “The Ministry of Fear,” and Eric Ambler’s “A Coffin for Dimitrios.” Then later there was “Gorky Park” by Martin Cruz Smith and a now-little-known novel, “The Red Fox” by Anthony Hyde.
BOOKS: Do you read crime fiction from other countries?
FINDER: I’m pretty unread in the Scandinavian genre. Something about long slow books that take place in snowbound areas kind of turns me off. I’ve read a lot of the Brits, writers such as Harris and Ian Rankin.
BOOKS: Who do you think does the best job of capturing what it’s like to be a spy?
FINDER: Le Carré can when he’s not on a rant. He really hates the CIA. There are really few writers who write well about that world. They tend to be former intelligence officers, and most of them aren’t great novelists.
BOOKS: What other kind of books do you read?
FINDER: I’m a sucker for novels about families, fractured relationships, and rocky marriages, like Meg Wolitzer’s “The Interestings,” which is so great. It’s about ambition, creativity, college, and the years right after. Jonathan Tropper, who wrote “This is Where I Leave You,” is one of my favorites. I loved “The Marriage Plot” by Jeffery Eugenides and “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.” by Adelle Waldman. I am a defender of Jonathan Franzen. Every time I mention him, people roll their eyes and say, “I hate those books.” He takes a while to get into. “The Corrections” took me about 50 pages. My brother told me to keep going, and I’m glad I did.
BOOKS: Do you have any pet peeves about books?
FINDER: I have the mosquito-netting rule. I will not read a book set where you need mosquito netting. I’m also biased against present tense, but I’m not totally opposed to it. I also demand plot. I used to read and love Henry James, but now I don’t have the patience.
BOOKS: What are you reading next?
FINDER: “Dr. Knox,” a new thriller by friend of mine, Peter Spiegelman. I’ve got a galley of “Night School,” the new Lee Child. And Messud’s book.
BOOKS: What has been sitting on your to-read pile the longest?
FINDER: “Middlemarch.” I keep hearing I have to read “Middlemarch.” I look at it. I pick it up and think the print is too small. My copy has dust on it. You can begin to resent a book, but I intend to get to it at some point.