With his 10th book, “A Man Named Doll,” Jonathan Ames has gone all noir with the story of Happy Doll, an ex-cop who protects the young women at a Thai spa from over eager clients. That, of course, does not turn out to be so simple, and soon someone has a bullet in his gut. Ames’s previous novel, “You Were Never Really Here,” was adapted into a film starring Joaquin Phoenix. Ames is also the creator of two television series, “Blunt Talk” and HBO’s “Bored to Death.” He lives in Hollywood near Raymond Chandler’s old office.
BOOKS: What have you been reading?
AMES: I just read Megan Abbott’s “Give Me Your Hand,” which has beautiful prose and is a great page-turner. I recently read Lauren Wilkinson’s “American Spy,” which is a fun thriller. I read a book that is not a mystery, “What Happens at Night,” by Peter Cameron. He’s a brilliant writer. Last night I picked up an old short story by Raymond Chandler, “The Curtain.” He would cannibalize his old short stories and make them into novels. Parts of this short story are in “The Big Sleep” and “The Long Goodbye.”
BOOKS: When did you start reading crime fiction?
AMES: After I graduated from college a friend gave me a Chandler novel. In the last decade it’s primarily what I read. I do branch out but I’ve become obsessed with page-turners.
BOOKS: Which authors do that for you?
AMES: Richard Stark’s Parker crime novels are the ultimate page-turners. I also enjoy Lee Childs. I’ve burned through all of his books. I don’t eat popcorn while I read them but I could. Another page-turner guy is Robert Crais, a Los Angeles crime writer. During the pandemic I read everything by Ross Macdonald. I’m planning to read them again, but in order.
BOOKS: What kind of crime novel wouldn’t you pick up?
AMES: I remember reading the first of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley books, which is brilliant, but I didn’t want to continue spending time with someone so ill and malevolent. I like reading about the heroes and heroines, someone whose heart is in the right place. Even though Stark’s Parker may seem like a sociopath, I still root for him. He’s got a code of ethics and robs from institutions.
BOOKS: What kind of reader were you before you got into crime fiction?
AMES: I was an English major in college so I was into the great books. When I was a taxi driver I was reading some of the greats, like Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary,” and Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain.” I also really liked comedic novels, such as John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces.” I was an enormous fan of P.J. Wodehouse’s Jeeves books for many years.
BOOKS: Do you still look for comedy in your reading?
AMES: I love Charles Portis. His novels like “The Masters of Atlantis” are so funny. Some of Flannery O’Connor’s stuff is funny and dark. I liked Patrick deWitt’s “French Exit.” But I don’t seek out humor the way I once did. That might be harder to come by than a piece of noir is.
BOOKS: What are some of your prized possessions among your books?
AMES: “A Dance to the Music of Time” by Anthony Powell. It’s a 12-part series. Powell was essentially the English Proust. He began the series in the 1920s and finished in the 1970s. The University of Chicago Press put out a beautiful edition. When you line up the books, the images on the spine form the 17th-century painting by Poussin that inspired the books.
BOOKS: What else do you read other than fiction?
AMES: Of late, I love these books that explain eastern religion. I’ve been buying these thick and sometimes confusing books by the Dalai Llama. I just picked up the third in his series, “The Library of Wisdom and Compassion.” I’m not a Buddhist but I’ve found a lot of the principles to be helpful. In some ways, religion is the original self-help. I read five pages each morning. I’m not reading it compulsively in two days. I’m letting the concept sink in. These are not page-turners.