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Strange Bedfellows: Politicians and their Favourite Crime Novels

February 1, 2012

Houses of Parliament

A recent article in the Telegraph listed some of the books President Barack Obama is said to have read. His reading list includes several high brow titles, but I was pleased to discover the President also appears to be a fan of crime fiction. Obama has read both The Way Home (2009) by George Pelecanos and The Bayou Trilogy (2011) by Daniel Woodrell. If Obama can be considered as a fan of crime fiction then he is following in the footsteps of President Bill Clinton who named Walter Mosley as one of his favourite writers. Clinton was also photographed on Air Force One holding a copy of Dennis Lehane’s Prayers for Rain (1999), a  relatively minor incident which led to a huge increase in sales of Lehane’s work. President Kennedy regarded Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love (1957) as one of his favourite novels, and also appears to have admired Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate (1959). When Frank Sinatra informed JFK his next film was an adaptation of Condon’s novel, the President replied “Great, who plays the mother?”

In the UK, the House of Lords contains two of our greatest crime writers: Baroness James of Holland Park (P.D. James) and Baroness Rendell of Babergh (Ruth Rendell). The late Tory MP Julian Critchley wrote two mystery novels set at Westminster: Hung Parliament (1991) and Floating Voter (1992). Baron Dobbs of Wylye created the most memorable MP character in British crime fiction with Francis Urquhart, the Machiavellian Chief Whip who appeared in House of Cards (1989), To Play the King (1992) and The Final Cut (1995). David Cameron is known for his love of the James Bond novels and films, after giving his MPs a list of 37 thoroughly dull-sounding books to read he was spotted on a Cornish beach reading Sebastian Faulks Devil May Care (2008). What cheek!

If any readers can think of any other politicians who love crime (fiction that is!), please share them in the comment thread.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Gary Thaden permalink
    February 1, 2012 9:04 pm

    Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts included Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman. See “Baker Street Irregulars” in Wikipedia, citing the Boston Globe for this information.

    • February 1, 2012 9:40 pm

      Thanks Gary,

      I wonder how many other politicians enjoyed reading about the Golden Age sleuths.

      Best wishes,

  2. February 1, 2012 10:22 pm

    There are at least three other crime writing Peers in the Lords: Lord (Douglas) Hurd, Lord (Bertie) Denham and Baroness Cohen (Janel Neel), though I show my age when I admit that my first free lunch in the Lords was as a guest of the late Lord (Ted) Willis, the creator of Dixon of Dock Green.
    Probably the most knowledgeable MP when it comes to crime fiction is Sir Gerald Kaufman, who (I think) still represents Val McDermid’s constituency and who reviews for crime for one of the Scottish newspapers.

    • February 1, 2012 11:05 pm

      Thanks Mike,

      I had no idea we had so many crime writing peers, and let’s not forget Lord (Jeffrey) Archer. I’m envious, I would love to lunch at Parliament!


  3. February 2, 2012 11:36 am

    President George H.W. Bush (Bush I) was a fan of of the works of John D. MacDonald.

    • February 2, 2012 12:14 pm

      Then I’ve been maligning him for many years – Bush I that is, not the great John D.

    • February 2, 2012 12:18 pm

      Thanks Steve,

      I’m less knowledgeable about the Presidents, but I’ve managed to dig up some more Lords with links to the genre. There is Lord (Julian) Fellowes, Gosford Park is a murder mystery and Downton Abbey has elements of mystery. There is also Lord (David) Puttnam who produced Agatha, a film about Agatha Christie’s life starring Vanessa Redgrave, although Puttnam quit the production due to disagreements with Dustin Hoffman.


    • February 2, 2012 4:57 pm

      Just remembered Bush 1 is also friends with Patricia Cornwell.

  4. February 4, 2012 5:37 pm

    As a fan of the new Three Stooges movie (nyuk) I am sure you will have noticed that Jersey Shores dwarf Snooki was featured briefly “reading” Pelecanos novel The Cut.

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