IoS Books of the Year: Page-turners - Reviews - Books - The Independent

IoS Books of the Year: Page-turners

Jaw-dropping turns and killer twists

Whether because your dreariest uncle has invited himself for a festive mini break, you dread communal viewings of Doctor Who, or you have just had enough Hilary Mantel for now, everyone needs a page-turner at Christmas. Don't panic – here are the pick of the bunch.

For those who think it can't get any gorier than eight o'clock on Christmas evening, this year's crime novels have been explosive and insightful in equal measure. Ian Rankin's Rebus made a more than welcome return, after a five-year hiatus, in Standing in Another Man's Grave (Orion, £18.99). It saw the iconic, laconic (yet not moronic) detective still managing to make waves from the cold case unit where he now serves as a retired officer. The scenes with Malcom Fox, Rankin's recent leading man, are particularly good fun. The case itself is gripping, and Rankin has once again more than succeeded at combining narrative drive with social history, and with a disarming lightness of touch.

Nicci French's Tuesday's Gone (Viking, £12.99) was another warmly received return, this time for their Frieda Klein character, who remains unknowable yet hypnotic. A psychotherapist, she finds herself assisting the police in a case in which a confidence trickster and an unidentified dead body have baffled all concerned. Set partly in Deptford, and a direct sequel to last year's Monday's Child, it is similar to Tana French's Broken Harbour in that its depiction of the global recession's icy grip says more about society than many, more self-congratulatory state-of-the-nation novels do.

For those who devour thrillers during the holidays, in hours rather than weeks, a comparable US-set read is Gillian Flynn's astonishing Gone Girl (Orion, £7.99). What begins as a simple tale of wife gone missing turns into a dual narrative with taut dialogue and a couple of cliff-hangers so unexpected that the reader is a borderline psychological wreck by the end; a masterclass in thriller writing, and impossible not to discuss at length once finished.

The surprise thriller of the year came from John J Niven, which is the discreet new identity for Kill Your Friends' John Niven. Cold Hands (Heinemann, £12.99), a gruesome read set in snow-swept Canada, has a handful of jaw-dropping set pieces and a killer twist, but is most definitely not for the squeamish; the pages all but drip with blood. Less gory but just as readable is Erin Kelly's third novel The Burning Air (Hodder, £16.99). A big two-part adaptation of her first, The Poison Tree, is currently on ITV, but her latest sees her reach another level. Kelly excels at thrillers set in middle-England idylls, that sidestep the clichéd and the cosy to go for the jugular. This time, a well-to-do family holiday starts with cashmere and fresh coffee and ends with family secrets haemorrhaging from every member.

Similarly insightful about middle-class angst at its most creepy is Jessica Ruston's The Lies You Told Me (Headline, £7.99). Ruston debuted with the Shirley Conran-esque Luxury, three years ago, but is now heading towards Rosamund Lupton territory, which suits her clear-sighted depiction of family dynamics. The Lies You Told Me sees a daughter starting to doubt everything her father told her about her dead mother. Unnerving.

Of course, the greatest of the blockbuster maternal-identity novels is Lace, from Shirley Conran herself. It received a magnificent new package from Canongate (£7.99) to celebrate its 30th anniversary, and became a bestseller all over again. From the silk negligees to the goldfish to the immortal line "Which one of you bitches is my mother?", little of its jubilant gloss has faded since 1982.

Somewhat gentler is Harriet Evans's Happily Ever After (Headline, £6.99), a fine example of current women's commercial fiction. Following traditional tracks, it is about a young girl trying to excel in the office and find happiness and a sense of belonging outside it, but it is better written and has a sharper sense of character than many of its peers.

Jojo Moyes – who has had a blockbuster 12 months, with Me Before You being the pick of last year's round up – has also delivered the classy The Girl You Left Behind (7.99), in which First-World-War France meets a modern-day romance. It is done with such a lightness of touch that one almost forgets how rare it is to find a genuinely engrossing page-turner that doesn't compromise on language or insight. These treats must be treasured as much as the Christmas pudding itself.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week