We round up the best books to buy friends and family this Christmas. From gripping thrillers to bantering movie critics, there's some wonderful Christmas 'me time' here...
Career of Evil
The third novel in JK Rowling’s entertainingly adult chronicles of the hard-drinking, supermodel-bedding and one legged private eye Cormoran Strike. This one starts when a severed woman’s leg is delivered to Strike’s seedy Tin Pan Alley office. The sender is someone with a grudge against Strike, but that doesn’t exactly narrow the field. Never mind the plot, it’s obvious that Rowling loves her slovenly reliable lead character, and paints herself into the kick-ass trousers of his erstwhile secretary cum sidekick Robin. London boozers will particularly enjoy the attention paid to the grimy interiors of some of the capital’s thankfully un-gentrified hostelries.
Be warned: this is is considerably more gruesome than anything Rowling has written before, so sensitive souls should prepare themselves for some hefty helpings of blood and guts.
Those Were The Days
Radio legend Sir Terry Wogan makes his first foray into fiction with this collection of short stories set in a rose-tinted Ireland of yore. The narrator is Tom, a bank manager, whose small-town clients are also his friends. Being as it’s Christmas, and this is Terry Wogan, this isn’t going to be some gritty piece of urban commentary a la Frank McCourt, although there is an autobiographical flavour given that Sir Terrence started his long and magnificent career as a bank manager in Limerick. Like the man himself, this is pure blarney – slight, but effortlessly enjoyable.
A harsh critic would say that Sweet Caress is a reworking of William Boyd’s best selling Any Human Heart with a female protagonist. Like the 2002 novel (recently adapted as a TV series) this sees its narrator, Amory Clay, live an action-packed life that flits in and around many of the key events and people of the 20th Century. From decadent Berlin in the post-war 20s to being beaten by Moseley’s Fascists in the East End in the late 30s to an unlikely late career swerve as a war reporter in Vietnam, Amory’s life and loves form a sweeping and engrossing narrative. Boyd skillfully weaves in his fictional creations with real figures to provide an entirely satisfying read. Amory herself is a delightfully spiky and independent character who the reader can empathise with right up to her final perfect plot twist.
The Movie Doctors
Fans of Simon Mayo’s and Mark Kermode’s long-running radio show will instantly warm to The Movie Doctors, a lustrously packaged hardbacked book that takes their format onto the printed page. The title riffs upon the fact that both presenters have PHDs (although Kermode insists he got his proper way) and both believe in the power of films to cure a variety of life’s ailments. So begins a variety of lists, reviews, rants and raves that will enthral anyone with a passing interest in films and populist film criticism. The Odd Couple-style personality clash – Kermode is the cranky, Spartist intellectual, Mayo the deadpan Everyman – stays effective and engaging on the page, helped by the fact that you can instantly recognise the ‘voice’ of each one in their writing style. Even if you haven’t listened to the show, the garnish of in-jokes and long-established references like ‘Hello to Jason Isaacs’ serves to intrigue rather than annoy. And if this book gently prods a relative or significant other to discover the magic of the Radio 5 Live show and become a fully paid-up ‘Wittertainee’, so much the better.
The Girl On The Train
It’s been hanging around the bestseller lists so long, it’s easy to forget that Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train was published this year, albeit back in January. For those that haven’t heard of this excellent London-based thriller, it’s been described as a cross between Gone Girl and Rear Window. The narrator, Paula, is a borderline alcoholic who commutes by train into London every day from suburbia. To while away the journey to and from her dreary job, she fantasises about the private lives of a good looking couple she notices living in a particular terraced house she can see from the train. One day she notices that something is out of kilter with her fantasy couple – and she suspects violence is involved. Her fantasies are partly fuelled by the trauma of her own relationship break-up – which is what pushed her to bouts of heavy drinking. It’s the blackouts and the reliability – or otherwise – of Rachel’s desperate observations that gives the novel it’s extra layer of suspense. Can we trust anything that Rachel thinks or sees? Or could indeed her blackouts be covering up her own sinister activities. A genuine page turner, and a great present for anyone who enjoys a cracking thriller.