|photo: Iden Ford Photography
Ian Hamilton is the author of The Disciple of Las Vegas, to be published by Picador on February 5, 2013; it's the first in a series of thrillers featuring forensic accountant and sleuth Ava Lee. Picador will publish the second in the series, The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, in July 2013. Hamilton has had a range of careers, from journalist to diplomat, but it wasn't until a health scare that he sat down to write his first novel. Ava Lee was the heroine that came to him and so the series was born. Hamilton lives in Burlington, Ontario, with his wife, Lorraine.
On your nightstand now:
Boomerang by Michael Lewis and The World, The World by Norman Lewis. Michael brings light and reason to subjects that are keenly important and befuddle most of us. Liar's Poker and The Big Short were good reads; Boomerang is terrific as he makes sense of the world's current economic woes by dissecting the Greek, Icelandic and Irish experiences. Norman Lewis is English, a writer of some so-so novels and some brilliant memoirs. The memoirs are part personal history and part travel. The World, The World has a companion piece, I Came, I Saw. Two better titles for this type of book I have yet to encounter. I have read and re-read these books, and still get a kick out of his story about Ian Fleming asking him to drop in on Ernest Hemingway in Cuba for the purpose of finding out if Fidel Castro--young and still a rebel in the mountains--had any chance of success. Lewis does meet Hemingway, is appalled at his general physical condition and character, and I can only think of Hemingway now in the way Lewis described him.
Favorite book when you were a child:
My first memory of reading is the Oor Wullie comic strip in a Scottish newspaper, but I became hooked on books through the Billy Bunter series written by Charles Hamilton. I devoured them, and still have Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School sitting in my book shelf.
Your top five authors:
Patrick O'Brian, Charles McCarry, Gore Vidal, Richard Stark and Doris Kearns Goodwin. There, that was easy. Actually, it was brutal, and if I listed everyone else I thought of, this piece would run on and on. O'Brian because he was just such a great story teller and could make me care passionately about Jack Aubrey, a man with flaws and as unlike me anyone could be. McCarry--recommended to me by George V. Higgins as American's answer to John le Carré--because his Paul Christopher novels were just plain brilliantly plotted and written. I thought that Vidal's Burr was the best book I had read in years, and though the rest of his American series weren't quite as good, his ability to make history so damn entertaining kept me going back for more. Richard Stark's (aka Donald Westlake) 20-book Parker series shows what talent can do even with a main character with one name, no sidekicks and no morals. Lastly, Doris Kearns Goodwin. Her book on Lincoln was good; her No Ordinary Time about the Roosevelts was better. She has a special genius for getting into her characters' heads.
Book you've faked reading:
I have never faked reading anything because I never really cared what anyone thought I was or wasn't reading. I did, though, try to read Thomas Pynchon and was totally defeated by Gravity's Rainbow--I couldn't force myself to read more than 50 pages. Equally, and disappointingly, John Barth's Giles Goat-Boy met with the same fate. It was disappointing because I had read and enjoyed The Sot-Weed Factor. Both Barth and Pynchon are now, in my mind, unreadable.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I hate repeating myself, but I've foisted the O'Brian Jack Aubrey books on more people I can remember, and I'm now starting to do the same with Norman Lewis. I really enjoy travel writing (Theroux, O'Hanlon, Iyer, Newby), and I think that Lewis produces the best I've ever read. I stumbled across him by accident in a secondhand bookstore with Naples '44, and then sought out I Came, I Saw and The World, The World. I feel sometimes like I'm on a one-man crusade to get him read.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The first Flashman book by George MacDonald Fraser. Harry Flashman looked like an outrageous cad, and that of course is what he turned out to be. History has never been so much a fun read, and Fraser has done a wonderful job over the years of keeping Flashman's character intact. He lies, cheats, steals, commits adultery and is an absolute coward. Once in a while, Fraser brings him to the brink doing something honorable, and just when you think it is possible, Harry reverts to form.
Book that changed your life:
The Corridors of Power by C.P. Snow. I was a young civil servant with my eye on advancement when I read this. The machinations of politicians in the U.K. parliamentary system (identical to my Canadian), and the relationships between the politicians and the supposedly neutral civil service were subtly, but pointedly drawn. When I found myself later in my career in senior positions that involved intermingling with Cabinet ministers--trying to meet their demands without taking political sides--I would from time to time go back to The Corridors of Power. It was like reading a beautifully written primer.
Favorite line from a book:
I really enjoyed Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, and I became particularly enamored with the dialogue and used to spout some of the lines, including various references to "poke," until my wife told me it wasn't achieving its intended purpose sex-wise. At sort of the other end of the scale, there is a line from Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals that I have been using for 30 years: "People always do the right thing for the wrong reason." A line that sticks with you that long is worthy if not particularly literary. I later borrowed it for my Ava Lee novels and represent it as one of Ava and Uncle's basic rules of life. I did credit Alinsky in the acknowledgements.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carré because when I read it for the first time I didn't want it to end, and I've read it three times since and always had that same sensation. Now I'm wondering why he wasn't part of my five top authors list. Can I give him an Honourable Mention?