Here’s a handy list of my top reads last year: try them if you haven’t; you won’t regret it
If you are a regular reader of this column then you know by now that books are my drug of choice. There is nothing quite as wonderful as discovering a brand-new writer, except perhaps discovering a new book by an old favourite. And there is nothing more comforting that finding solace between the pages of a tried-and-tested comfort read when you are feeling low.
Over the last year, I have had my fill of both new writers and old favourites. And yes, I have revisited many classics as well, in the hope of discovering something new in them. But here, for your benefit, is the list of my best reads of 2013.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
This was by far one of the best thrillers I have read in a long time. The story unravels through the first person accounts of the two protagonists: the husband whose wife has gone missing; and the diary entries of the ‘gone girl’. But as the tale unfolds, it becomes clear that nothing is quite as it seems. Since I hate spoilers of any kind, I won’t say much more than assure you that this is a book like no other. If you haven’t read it yet, then do so NOW.
The Silent Wife by ASA Harrison
Another psychological portrayal of a marriage that isn’t quite what it seems, and in fact, turns out not to be a marriage at all. The characters are acutely drawn, the plot moves forwards slowly but menacingly, and the ‘silent wife’ of the title proves that old adage of still waters running deep.
Longbourn by Jo Baker
I am generally not hot on conceits like rewriting an old classic from the viewpoint of a different character. But I have to say that Jo Baker has pulled off a cracker of a novel, retelling Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from the viewpoint of the servants of the Bennet household. The maid, Sarah, is the central character, whose most memorable line is that Miss Elizabeth would be more careful of her petticoats if she had to wash them herself! A brilliant retelling of a classic; which should become a classic in its own time.
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)
Confession time: I first read The Cuckoo’s Calling before J.K. Rowling had been outed as its author. And while it was a good enough story, I have to admit that I didn’t think Robert Galbraith was going to be the next Harlan Coben or even Lee Child. After the author’s identity was revealed, I re-read it. And no, I didn’t change my mind. This was a good enough book as far as murder mysteries go, but ‘Robert Galbraith’ still has a long way to go.
Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George
I really don’t know how she does it. But with every novel in her Inspector Lynley series, Elizabeth George manages to up her game just a little. This, the latest in the series, has Barbara Havers at the centre while Lynley plays a sort of supporting role. Set in Italy, the story gallops forwards furiously, taking twists and turns when you least expect them, the characters evolve in ways you could barely imagine, and in true Elizabeth George fashion, the ending is far from the happily-ever-after variety.
The English Girl by Daniel Silva
Yes, I know. Daniel Silva has gone a tad formulaic on us. But I guess that’s a risk you run when you have the same hero, Israeli agent Gabriel Allon, and are committed to churning out a potboiler every year. So, this book has much the same elements. Allon is put into impossible situations and manages to fight his way out, and save the world while he is at it. But that said, the book is a page-turner, the kind that will keep you up till 3 am, as you read on to find out what happens next.
Mapping The Edge by Sarah Dunant
I have to admit that I had mixed feelings about this one. It started off well, but then got a bit too clever by half, and two-thirds into the narrative, I was more confused than ever. But despite my reservations, I am glad that I read it. Dunant attempts the brave – even impossible, some might say – feat of offering two alternatives to a woman’s abduction without ever indicating where the truth actually lies. But while her writing is, for the most part, assured, there is a real sense in which the reader ends up feeling manipulated by her trickery. Well, at least, I did. You can read it and make up your own mind.
The Golden Egg by Donna Leon
There is something ineffably soothing about the gentle pace of Donna Leon’s murder mysteries. She spends as much time evoking the spirit of Venice, describing the family life of her hero, Guido Brunetti and his wife Paola, detailing the meals they eat and the wine they drink, the books they read, as she does investigating the death that is at the heart of the story. This book is no different, with the story telling us as much about the corruption at the core of Venetian society, as it does about the murder itself. If you haven’t read her, you should start now. (But remember to start at the beginning, and work your way through the 17 or so books she has written.)