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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10 thoughts on “The Times recommends Christmas books

  1. Of the books I’ve read from the list I too have no problem with the inclusion of the Philip Kerr, Tom Franklin and Peter Temple. Having just finished Dregs i would add that too. The short stories passed me by but I will check them out as I like crime shorts.

    The Fear Index is getting mixed reviews but I will probably read it becasue I quite like Robert Harris.

    • I hope you review Dregs, Sarah, I look forward to reading what you made of it. I don’t read short fiction these days but this particular collection does look rather interesting.

  2. “A computer that thinks it knows better than the bankers” – I like it. Sounds like required reading for leaders of nations everywhere.

    A collection of crime short stories is an unusual one, isn’t it? I don’t think that I’ve stumbled across that sort of thing before.

    No, I don’t know the difference between the crime and thriller genres either!

    Thanks for the list, Maxine.

    • I think there are a few collections of short crime-y stories about, Clare, but I don’t really follow them as I prefer “the long form”. I guess Conan Doyle was one of the establishers of the tradition.

  3. Thanks for the information Maxine. Have Crooked letter, crooked letter to read next and I’m intereted in the Denise Mina, Kerr and Temple books. But the problem with the series, I need to start from the first book, at leats on the Berlin trilogy.

  4. Maxine – Thanks so much for sharing this. I’m very glad to see the Franklin, the Temple and the Kerr on there in particular. Some fine choices, in my opinion.

  5. Thanks for the share, Maxine. I don’t miss it in general, but when you post such as this I realise what snippets they have that I do miss. Not surprised at the choices. Love the thriller summaries. Very pleased that Adrian Dawson is doing so well in the MSM for a couple of novels with a brand new small publisher. His is a name we will hear much more of, I am sure. Especially now he’s signed up with Blake Friedmann.

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