The Times recommends Christmas books

Very few people will know what books The Times is recommending for Christmas reading this year (other publications use the phrase “best of year”) – the only way of knowing is to read Saturday’s (26 November) print edition or to subscribe to the paper online. (One cannot even point to articles via a URL unless one is an online subscriber). Hence, I thought I’d share the choices with you in this blog post.

Crime – selected by Marcel Berlins.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (published this year in the UK but last year in the USA). “Franklin’s portrayal of small-town paranoia and racial politics is superb, as is his moving treatment of his main, damaged characters”. I have no argument with that assessment of this superb novel (My review is here.)

White Dog by Peter Temple (published this year in the UK but in 2003 in Australia). “The plot is pacy, full of twists and occasionally wayward, but what counts with Temple is his dashing feel for the less respectable side of stuffy Melbourne’s society and local politics.” No argument from me there, either! (My review is here.)

The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina. This book actually is published for the first time this year, and is the only “home-grown” novel of the three. The book, according to Berlins, covers “the class system, the disintegration of families, the moral status of sex workers and the treatment of troubled juveniles. And it’s all totally entertaining and not a bit heavy”. I agree that the book is a good read, if somewhat slow for the first two-thirds in the leaden sense, but I don’t think it is by any means the most insightful or telling treatment of these social issues I’ve read this year. (My review is here.)

The Dead Witness, ed. Michael Sims. A collection of 22 short stories of detection, some classic, some rare, some new, including “what is claimed to be the first detective story by a woman – Mary Fortune – in 1866.”

Thrillers – selected by Peter Millar.

I am never very sure of the difference between a crime and a thriller novel, but perhaps it is indicative of some difference between them that I haven’t read any of these selections, whereas I’d read all three of the crime novels chosen!

Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr – Agatha Christie meets the Third Reich.

The Red Coffin by Sam Eastland – Spy thriller set in Stalin’s Russia, again with WW2 theme.

Sequence by Adrian Dawson – “Dr Who meets Dan Brown meets Time Traveller’s Wife“, LA setting.

The Fear Index by Robert Harris – “money-market madness” & “a computer that thinks it knows better than bankers” (!).

The Drop by Howard Linskey – PI investigates amid Geordie gangsters, “makes Newcastle upon Tyne feel like the Los Angeles we came to know thanks to Raymond Chandler.”

The “mainstream” fiction recommendations by The Times’s literary editor Erica Wagner, are: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, There but for the by Ali Smith, Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, Gillespie and I by Jane Harris, The Blue Book by A. L. Kennedy, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Death of Eli Gould by David Baddiel, The Final Testament of the Holy Bible by James Frey, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht, City of Bohane by Kevin Barry, Collected Folk Tales by Alan Garner and Ragnarok by A. S. Byatt. This last title is the only one of these books I’ve read but I did not enjoy it very much, even though The Times calls it “lyrical and urgent”, and comments on its “gorgeous” cover, as if that bears any relation to the contents!

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