ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Today is the first day of summer, and we have a brand new book series to mark the occasion. We're calling it Thrilled To Death. All summer long, we'll be asking thriller writers to recommend a thriller they love.
And today, we kick off the series with an essay by Scott Turow, author of "Presumed Innocent." His latest novel is simply titled "Innocent." His recommendation, Graham Greene's "The Power and the Glory." Turow says the novel achieves the unrelenting suspense that he craves as a reader and strives to create as a writer.
Mr. SCOTT TUROW (Author, "Presumed Innocent"): My first copy of Graham Greene's "The Power and the Glory" cost me $1.65, which will tell you how long ago I first read the book, roughly 40 years. And I still own it, which should tell you something else.
Published in 1940, "The Power and the Glory" is set in Mexico during the 1930s. The novel tells the story of an unnamed Catholic priest on the run from a high-minded police lieutenant determined to arrest him. The priest, at first, seems to deserve jail. He is a drunk, always hunting for alcohol and, worse, the father of a child.
Nonetheless, he emerges as a figure of intense humility and faith, willing to sacrifice himself to attend in secret to the devoted and utterly unaware of his own goodness.
The novel captivated me completely. It was a thriller but also a novel of ideas. Greene's elegant use of detail, the author's profound knowledge of his characters, and his novel's unrelenting suspense marked the book to me as a work of the highest literary art.
That recognition confused me at the time. I had wanted to be a novelist all my life, but my education had left me unclear about what kinds of novels to write. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, most English departments exalted modernism, modernism whose innovations and defiance of literary convention were thought to advance culture, but that meant by definition those books were not intended for a broad popular audience.
On the other hand, novels of suspense, while more widely read, were regarded as contrived, formulaic and thus unworthy when measured by those lofty literary standards.
But I had no question when I read, and then repeatedly re-read, "The Power and the Glory," that it was a book I would have simply died to write.
SIEGEL: Scott Turow is a practicing lawyer in Chicago and the author of eight novels. His most recent is called "Innocent." He recommended "The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene, and you can find many more summer reading recommendations for everything from cookbooks to crime fiction in the summer books section of our website. That of course is npr.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.