Thursday, October 02, 2014

Popular fiction by 20 bestselling authors

A trip down memory book lane for Friday's Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog Pattinase.

As you may have noticed, I frequently refer to popular fiction by bestselling authors of the second-half of the 20th century, most of whom were lords of the bookshelves from the seventies through the nineties. 

Popular fiction is fiction I grew up reading. They were bestselling paperbacks. They were novels and not books. They were everywhere around me, even when I wasn't reading them—at home, at my neighbour’s, in school and college, in bookstores and libraries, on footpaths, and at the scrap dealer’s. They were immensely popular among readers of my generation. They were entertaining but only some were memorable. They were made into successful movies. The bestsellers were one of the reasons I started reading books.

Some of them, like Harold Robbins and Irving Wallace, wrote pulp. Others like Jack Higgins, Len Deighton, and Alistair MacLean, wrote war and espionage. Wilbur Smith and James A. Michener wrote epic journeys across spectacular lands. Mario Puzo and Lawrence Sanders wrote crime and mafia. Frederick Forsyth, Ken Follett, and Sidney Sheldon wrote thrillers. Henry Denker wrote family dramas and human emotions. Jeffrey Archer and Arthur Hailey wrote general fiction.

If you went to a private circulating library, the salesman (not librarian) would toss the latest Jeffrey Archer or Frederick Forsyth across the counter, as if those were the only books Indians read, and yet they most often did. If you read Archer’s Kane and Abel, you read The Prodigal Daughter right after it. Similarly, you read Lawrence Sanders’ Deadly Sin quartet in succession. Ditto with Robert Ludlum’s Bourne trilogy.

While I’m familiar with all twenty bestselling authors, I have not read all their novels. They have written far too many. You can spend a lifetime reading them. Back then, though, knowing them was reading them. 

What I have done is I have shortlisted, in no particular order, the twenty authors and what I think are some of their more popular novels, many of which I have read. I have not covered any popular women authors, the notable likes of Danielle Steele, Jackie Collins, Barbara Taylor Bradford, and Judith Michael, because I have never read their novels. So here goes...

Arthur Hailey: Hotel (1965), Airport (1968), and Wheels (1971)

Jeffrey Archer: Kane and Abel (1979), The Prodigal Daughter (1982), and Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less (1976)

Robin Cook: Coma (1977), Fever (1982), and Outbreak (1987)

Henry Denker: The Physicians (1975), The Scofield Diagnosis (1977), and A Gift of Life (1989)

Robert Ludlum: The Bourne Identity (1980), The Bourne Supremacy (1986), and The Bourne Ultimatum (1990)

Harold Robbins: A Stone for Danny Fisher (1952), 79 Park Avenue (1955), and The Carpetbaggers (1964)

Irving Wallace: The Prize (1962), The R Document (1976), and The Second Lady (1980)

Wilbur Smith: The Sunbird (1972), A Falcon Flies (1980), and Rage (1987)

Frederick Forsyth: The Day of the Jackal (1971), The Dogs of War (1974), and The Fourth Protocol (1984)

Alistair MacLean: The Guns of Navarone (1957), Ice Station Zebra (1963), and Where Eagles Dare (1967)

Jack Higgins: The Last Place God Made (1971), A Prayer for the Dying (1973), and The Eagle Has Landed (1975)

Desmond Bagley: The Snow Tiger (1975), Bahama Crisis (1980), Juggernaut (1985)

Len Deighton: The IPCRESS File (1962), Funeral in Berlin (1964), and XPD (1981),

Dick Francis: Nerve (1964), In the Frame (1976), and Bolt (1986)

Ken Follett: Eye of the Needle (1978), The Key to Rebecca (1980), and The Man from St. Petersburg (1982)

James A. Michener: Hawaii (1959), The Covenant (1980), and Texas (1985)

Sidney Sheldon: The Other Side of Midnight (1973), Bloodline (1977), and Rage of Angels (1980)

Lawrence Sanders: The Anderson Tapes (1970), and Deadly Sin and Commandment series

Mario Puzo: The Godfather (1969), Fools Die (1978), and The Sicilian (1984)

Leon Uris: Mila 18 (1961), Topaz (1967), and Mitla Pass (1988)

Do you identify with any of these authors and their paperbacks?


  1. I recently watched Where Eagles Dare and it got me to thinking I should read some Alistair MacLean. Been a long while since I've read him and many of the authors you have listed here.

    1. David, WHERE EAGLES DARE and THE GUNS OF NAVARONE are good war films based on MacLean's novels. Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton complement each other in the former. Many of MacLean's and Higgins' novels have been made into movies.

  2. What a wonderful post Prashant. Brought back my school and college days and the readings and discussions...

    I haven't read these authors as much as you have done but a few I have read. Here goes:

    Arthur Hailey: Have read his Hotel and Airport.Liked both of them, the former more than the latter, but to me his best work is The Final Diagnosis.

    Jeffrey Archer: When I read his Kane and Abel, I thought he was a great writer, an idea that came crashing down with the very next book that I read of his.

    Robin Cook: Have read Coma and a couple more but am not really into medical thrillers.

    Harold Robbins: 79 Park Avenue was one too many.

    Irwing Wallace: Papa specifically asked us not to read this author while we were in school. :) I read him in college. Have heard good things about The Second Lady. Perhaps one of these days I'll read it.

    Frederick Forsyth: My father's favourite author. Papa would narrate the story of his novels. I know them all without having read any of them except for The Shepherd.

    Alistair MacLean: Saw the movie version of Where Eagles Dare and was bowled over. Haven't as yet read the book. MacLean was a great favourite and The Golden Randezvous is one of my all-time favourites.

    Desmond Bagley: Once described by my class mate as the poor man's Alistair MacLean.

    Ken Follett: The Man from St. Petersburg is grand. One of the greatest love stories.

    Sidney Sheldon: Like Wallace, I read him only in college. Rage of Angels and Stranger in the Mirror really hooked me.

    Lawrence Sanders: I have only read The Fourth Deadly Sin. Recently read another of his novel and found it was nothing but porn.

    1. Neer, thank you. I can see we are both on the same page as far as most of these authors are concerned. I was advised to stay away from Harold Robbins and Irving Wallace until I reach twenty. I think, between the two Wallace was more obsessed with sex than Robbins and it was a recurring theme in some of his novels like THE CELESTIAL BED, THE SEVEN MINUTES, and THE FAN CLUB. Sanders dabbled in it, too. Among all the authors I have read Desmond Bagley and Dick Francis the least.

  3. I used to read Forsyth pretty regularly, but stopped. I've read maybe one of each of Archer, Higgins and Deighton and a couple each by Francis and Uris. My favourite Uris was QBVII.
    My wife used to read Sydney Sheldon.
    I've also read one each of Jackie Collins and Danielle Steele - well I was sat on a beach and I'd read all of my own stuff!

    1. Col, I believe Danielle Steele has written some good books though I have never tried any. I liked the pace of Sidney Sheldon's novels and particularly enjoyed THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT though not the belated sequel MEMORIES OF MIDNIGHT. I intend to read the novels of Leon Uris whose THE ANGRY HILLS (1955) I recommend. It was made into a film with Robert Mitchum playing the lead role.

  4. With the possible exception of Bagley (which surprises me)< I believe I have sampled all of these at one pojnt or another - a great trip down memory lane as I really a lot of these in my teens, though I;ll admit, very few of them since then (with maybe the exception fo Deighton) - but you've made me want to go back and try again and I know I have ICE STATION ZEBRA somewhere - thanks Prashant!

    1. Sergio, you are welcome. I'm with you on Bagley. I haven't read him as much as I have read the other authors with the possible exception of Dick Francis. In fact, barring Jack Higgins, I haven't read much of any of the other nineteen authors in the past few years; perhaps, a couple of books by Harold Robbins, Leon Uris, and Alistair MacLean. Now I'd also need oodles of time and patience to read James A. Michener or a Wilbur Smith.

  5. I wasn't a fan of Irving Wallace but I've read most of the writers listed. My favorite of that group is Jack Higgins. His early work is terrific!

    1. George, one of the reasons my friends and I read Irving Wallace in our teens was because he wrote titillating stuff. THE CELESTIAL BED, for instance, was erotic in an academic way. I agree, the early novels of Jack Higgins, one of two of my favourite authors (the other being Oliver Strange), are some of his best. I read a few in recent years.

  6. I predate most of the writers on your list. But Michener and Uris (Exodus, 1958), yes.

    1. Ron, I haven't read Michener in years. The opening of HAWAII was breathtaking. while I read Leon Uris' THE ANGRY HILLS some four-five years ago. I'm not sure I have read EXODUS though I know it is one of his well-known novels.

  7. What a great list, it was like reading a history of my reading over the years. The only one I didn't know was Henry Denker. I've read at least one book by most of the others (most recently the Wallace Second Lady, based on your recommendation!) and some of them were great favourites in the past - Alastair MacLean. And, I am reading Len Deighton now, and would always think of The Godfather as a great novel.

    1. Moira, thank you. Glad you liked the list. I think most of us grew up reading these authors. They were a constant fixture in my teens and twenties. In those days I read little else. I was introduced to Henry Denker by my grandfather's brother. I left out a few notable writers like Erich Segal, Howard Fast, and Jonathan Black, but then there'd have been no end to the list. I plan to read some MacLean and Deighton in coming months. THE GODFATHER is a very good novel, as is the film.

  8. Prashant, this was a fun post. I have missed reading a lot of these authors...
    Robert Ludlum: The Bourne Identity. I have had this book for years with good intentions to read it. Now I need to move it up.
    Frederick Forsyth: The Day of the Jackal. This one I have read but plan to re-read it.
    Also planning to read Mario Puzo (The Godfather), Alistair MacLean, and Desmond Bagley.
    I love Deighton and have many more of his to read. I read tons of Leon Uris and Dick Francis in earlier years.

    1. Tracy, thank you. We can't go wrong with any of these prolific authors. One other writer I forgot to mention from that era was Irwin Shaw whose two popular novels were RICH MAN, POOR MAN and BEGGARMAN, THIEF. I haven't read his books in decades.