Audiobooks: Let them tell you a story (dodgy accent optional...)

Christmas books of the year

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The Independent Culture

Why not slip a story into a stocking this year?

For thriller-lovers, here are some corkers: Ian Rankin's newish hero, Malcolm Fox, comes strongly into his own in his tense second outing, The Impossible Dead (Orion, 10 CDs, £25). Confidently read by Peter Forbes, it involves obtaining the evidence of a madman to convict corrupt government ministers. More corruption is uncovered when Derek Jacobi, alias Dr Watson, recounts Anthony Horowitz's new Sherlock Holmes mystery, The House of Silk (Orion, 9 CDs, £18.99): the carriage-chase through frozen London is scarier than a Bond movie. And it's the final outing on audio for Albert Campion, Margery Allingham's uniquely charming detective. Read by the irresistible Philip Franks, Dancers in Mourning (Hachette, 3 CDs, £14.99) finds Campion unusually reluctant to solve a murder: the woman he loves will, he fears, prove to be the wife of a killer.

For more straightforward romance, consider Harriet Evans's engaging saga Love Always (Whole Story, 15 CDs, £30.62), read by Julie Teal and Penelope Rawlins, and largely set in coastal Cornwall. Its intricate plot involves bohemian artists and a missing father. Like Evans, William Nicholson understands contemporary mores. His All the Hopeful Lovers (Whole Story, 9 CDs, £15), superbly read by Adoja Andoh, takes place over a few wintry days in the South Downs. Both these writers appreciate the frailties of the human heart and express them with sympathy and insight.

On which subject, William Boyd's masterly novel Any Human Heart (Whole Story, 15 CDs, £30.62) takes a much broader canvas, travelling the length of Logan Mountstuart's life through most of the 20th century and much of Europe. Mike Grady reads well, and steadily (though his French pronunciation is risible). Diane Beck has no problems with the sharply distinct voices of Ali Smith's wide range of characters in There But For The (Whole Story, 8CDs, £20.41), a truly brilliant, life-changing novel.

Before Hilary Mantel plunged into the Tudor maelstrom, she wrote A Change of Climate (Whole Story, 11 CDs, £25.52), now elegantly read by Sandra Duncan (despite a dodgy Norfolk accent). This is Mantel's best book, evoking both the trauma of apartheid in South Africa and the provincial absurdities of rural East Anglia. Her style and her wisdom are dazzling.

For linguistic pedants, there's David Crystal reading his own fascinating look at The Story of English in 100 Words (BBC, 4 CDs, £15): juicy facts, and jokes, in every paragraph. Finally, remember two top-class audios already reviewed in these pages: Dave John's thrilling performance of Carol Barnes's swashbuckling Jamrach's Menagerie (Whole Story, 10 CDs, £25.52), and Dan Stevens's wonderful reading of Louisa Young's Great War saga My Dear I Wanted to Tell You (Harper Collins, £15), recently voted Audiobook of the Year at the Galaxy National Book Awards.