Best audio books of 2009: Ghost stories and thrillers make for good listening

This season delivers a bumper crop of excellent thrillers. In William Boyd's Ordinary Thunderstorms (Whole Story Audio, £24.46), Adam Kindred, wanted for a gruesome murder of which he is innocent, goes to ground in London. He lives rough, creating a new identity for himself and gradually unravels a huge pharmaceutical fraud. Boyd visits and forensically examines virtually every level of contemporary society, from prostitutes and hellfire evangelists to scientists, corrupt City types and an ex-soldier turned hired gun. Compellingly read by Martyn Ellis, it is a serious, thoughtful and provocative novel. And it speeds along faster than a cheetah.

Another pacey tale comes from the splendid Ian Rankin. He has retired his old bear Rebus and swivelled the spotlight onto Malcolm Fox, whose job is to investigate police corruption in a department known as The Complaints (Orion, £16.63). Fox may be tee-total and childless but he's Rebus' spiritual heir, bending the rules, getting suspended but still busily hunting down villains and flirting, rather hopelessly. Rankin's fine regular reader, James Macpherson, adds to the sense of continuity.

Michael Maloney brings a large cast of regional voices to his reading of Val McDermid's new spin on the police novel. Fever of the Bone (Hachette Audio, £15.65) requires a strong stomach: a sinister killer wreaks his nasty worst on several teenagers, and is eventually hunted down by a discredited psychological profiler, despite frustrating interference from rival, competitive forces. Gripping stuff.

As the great PD James maintains, we love detective fiction because it "confirms our belief, despite some evidence to the contrary, that we live in a rational, comprehensible and moral universe". Although these islands traditionally produce the best in the genre, Scandinavia is galloping up on the rails, with Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson leading the pack. And it's worth keeping an eye on Camilla Läckberg, whose second novel, The Preacher (Harper Collins, £14.98), is a cracker. Set during a heatwave in a small, touristy, seaside town in Sweden, it concerns three murders committed over a period of 30 years. Read entertainingly by Cameron Stewart, it has an unusual, rather charmingly domestic atmosphere, as our policeman hero's girlfriend is imminently expecting the birth of their first child, but the plotting is immaculate and the villain proves to be thoroughly and inventively unpleasant.

On to ghosts now, and Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger (Hachette Audio, £24.47). It is post-war England, and the grand Hundreds Hall, once bright and bustling, is starved of money and servants and rapidly returning to dust. The local doctor narrates his endeavours to find rational explanations for ever spookier occurrences: a previously placid dog savaging a child; mysterious marks and writing appearing on walls; an apparent suicide. Waters ratchets up the tension, notch by notch and, beautifully read by Simon Vance, the appalling denouement lingers on in the memory. As will – we may suppose – its evidence on the liver-coloured marble of the hall floor, until nature eventually reclaims it.

Earlier in the 20th century, Idina Sackville shook the dust of England from her feet to make a new, richly scandalous life in Kenya's ill-named Happy Valley. At 13, Frances Osborne discovered that this colourful – and pretty unpleasant – woman was her great-grandmother. The Bolter (Hachette Audio, £13.70) is her story. Rosamund Pike does her best with it, but it's a sorry fable.

Five times Idina married, once fewer than our most grotesquely fascinating monarch. Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate, £15) is Hilary Mantel's brilliant account of the years when Henry VIII was busily getting shot of his first wife to marry Anne Boleyn. This tense, dangerous novel thrusts the wily Thomas Cromwell on to centre stage as an unlikely hero. Dan Stevens reads with low urgency, his chameleon voice adding a subtle touch of Geordie to the Percys; of Somerset to the Seymours; of pettish flounciness to the doomed Anne. It is a tour de force.

And for sheer, unexpected joy, do listen to Lynne Truss reading Get Her Off the Pitch (Fourth Estate, £14.98), her account of the years she spent as an unlikely sports reporter for The Times. You don't have to like sport to start with: it's probably better not to. She certainly didn't. At first, she is both appalled and bewildered. Staying in the Dairylea-shaped room of the Edgbaston Thistle, she contemplates sawing her head off; later, she finds herself fingering golfing knitwear and trying not to scream. But gradually she discovers things to admire about almost everything (she's that kind of woman) and she takes you, Valkyrie-like, with her. It's a perfect antidote to doomy winter blues.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor