Wednesday, 31 December 2014

December reads

When I think of winter reading, I think of crime novels: whether it's dark Victorian London streets on which murderers creep or a cosy Agatha Christie whodunnit, mysteries are perfect for this time of year.

1. Moriarty is the second of novelist and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz's new Sherlock Holmes novels, and is notable for having very little of Holmes and Watson. Instead it's a cracking mystery about the weeks after Holmes and Moriarty's notorious showdown at the Reichenbach Falls. I frequently forgot that it was a contemporary novel, so well did it evoke Conan Doyle's London.

2. Hercule Poirot's Christmas is everything one might expect from Christie at Christmas: a glamourous country house setting, a fractious and unhappy family, a diamond theft and (of course), murder.

3. By coincidence, one of the timelines in Dark Places takes place at Christmas, which was a happy accident. I loved this deeply creepy novel by the author of Gone Girl, about the sole survivor of a family murder, Libby Day, looking more closely at the events that led to the deaths of her mother and sisters and the conviction for murder of her brother. Day is brilliantly flawed and unlikable and the flashback chapters that relate the events of the day of the murder are steeped with a sense of insidious evil inevitability. Much recommended.

4. After a plea on Twitter for good festive reads, Christmas At Cold Comfort Farm was suggested to me. I didn't realise when I downloaded it that it's a collection of short stories, so was a tiny bit confused to begin with. I enjoyed most of the stories (even if not all of them were as festive as I'd have liked) but especially loved The Little Christmas Tree. Her 1930s settings - full of women left 'spinsters' by the First World War, servant girls with illegitimate babies, gossipy greengrocers at the centre of village life - are now entirely alien, and all the more appealing for it.

5. I'd treated myself to the (gorgeously designed) hardback of My True Love Gave To Me as a pre-Christmas present, and was looking forward to diving into this collection of twelve festive short stories by leading YA authors, including two of my favourites, Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan. Luckily, it did not disappoint (although funnily enough, Rowell and Levithan's stories were amongst my least favourite). Chock full of lovely, romantic, moving and above all, festive tales, I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone who enjoys YA fiction. I can already tell I'll be re-reading this every Christmas.

6. I loved E Lockhart's We Were Liars earlier this year, so embarked upon The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks expecting great things which were, largely, delivered. Once again set within the exclusive milieu of wealthy America - this time a prep school rather than a private island - it's a fantastic exploration of gender politics and privilege. The heroine, Frankie, is winningly portrayed as a feminist warrior determined to gain entrance to the secret all-male society at her boarding school. Her ingenuity and questioning of tradition makes for an enjoyable read.

7. The Jeeves and Wooster stories are mentioned frequently in The Disreputable History..., so on finishing that I immediately downloaded a collection of short stories, My Man, Jeeves, to see what the fuss was about. They're comic classics for a reason, and I'll definitely be keeping a look out for more novels in my trawls of secondhand bookshops.

8. I approached The Monogram Murders with some trepidation: I adore Agatha Christie, and although I read all of Sophie Hannah's novels, I've found them becoming more and more far-fetched and silly. So Hannah writing a new Poirot novel... I wasn't convinced, let me say. But I loved it! Hannah brilliantly captures the rhythms and cadences of Christie's writing, ensuring that the quiet humour of the Poirot stories is retained, and provides a most satisfactory murder mystery. When three bodies are found murdered in an upmarket London hotel, Poirot is keen to make links with a strange encounter he has had the same evening in a coffee shop, and luckily Inspector Catchpool of Scotland Yard is quick to enlist Poirot's assistance.

9. Die Again* was deliciously creepy. The premise - a brutal and unusual murder in Boston seems to have links to a horrific series of disappearances in the Botswanan bush ten years previously - is a welcome departure from some of Gerritsen's recent Rizzoli and Isles novels, which have started to feel a little formulaic. She clearly did her research, too, as the evocation of the African landscape is spot-on.


10. 11. 12. 13. While ill with bronchitis - once I'd got past the first couple of days when I couldn't even lift my head from the pillow, much less read a book - I found solace in re-reading all of India Knight's comic novels. There is much that is flawed about them (Knight does enjoy going off on a rant, which can be amusing but is more often like being harangued by a posh woman who's had one too many cocktails and thinks her every utterance is common sense rather than slightly offensive and objectionable) but they are also immensely comforting and enjoyable reads. I really do love Comfort & Joy for perfect festive reading, and I'd also recommend her other two, largely autobiographical, Clara Hutt novels My Life On A Plate and MuttonDon't You Want Me? was one I hadn't read in years, and don't think I'll bother with again.

* This book was kindly provided for review by the publishers via Net Galley, but all opinions are entirely my own.


  1. All the books! I love a good crime and murder mysteries, especially in the winter! And these all sound good. I've still not read anything from Net Galley yet but must remember to.

  2. I'm with you on winter being the season for comforting murder mysteries. I read Moriarty in December as well and loved it - I'm half way through the new Poirot and really enjoying it so far (although I've never read any of her others so maybe had an advantage there!).

    1. Moriarty really was brilliant - although I'm so dense I did not see the twist coming at all!

  3. I truly hate my phone! I COMMENTED on this when you published it and it has vanished! Anyway, just to say, i received the Monogram murders for Christmas from my husband (and a PD James) both of which found in a 2nd hand book shop. I really want to read Moriaty now, BUT I have yet to read any Holmes!That, is truly shocking!x

    1. I hate when that happens - have checked my comments folder and it wasn't languishing in my moderation folder either. Wow, quite jealous about finding Monogram Murders secondhand! It's definitely one I'll buy to keep once my copy goes back to the library.