Books of the Year: Page-turners

Bonkbusters, society gals, thrillers and chillers are just right for giving you a break from the relatives

Alexandra Heminsley
Sunday 12 December 2010 01:00

Not a fan of Christmas telly or sharing time with family members you spend the rest of the year avoiding? Catching up with your reading is the best excuse to escape, and whether it's glamour or adrenaline you're after, these page-turners will provide.

India Knight's Comfort and Joy (Fig Tree, £14.99) is the most Christmassy of this bunch, spanning the My Life on a Plate heroine Clara Dunphy's life over three festive seasons. Clara's domestic escapades – coping with all Christmas has to offer, from in-laws and their startling bed-wear to relentlessly single friends looking for company – are a little low on plot but riotously high in laughs and glamour. I defy a festive grump not to be cheered by it.

The glamour factor is just as high in Kathleen Tessaro's The Debutante (HarperCollins, £12.99), which features a pair of intoxicating Mitford-esque sisters. Dripping in diamonds, snappy dialogue and sexy tension, it has just enough of an edge to keep things from getting too bonkbuster. Unashamed and unworried by such concerns is the showgirl Immodesty Blaize's second novel, Ambition (Ebury, £6.99). Life on the Vegas Strip is tough, and Blaize recounts it in all its bust-shifting, hair-pulling, nail-snagging glory. There's little here that is new but her ear for snappy dialogue is indisputable and it's hard not to giggle along.

Prompting fewer giggles than yelps of actual glee is Jilly Cooper's Jump! (Bantam, £18.99). We're still in Rutshire, women are still "fillies" and Rupert Campbell-Black is back. I know! When recently widowed Etta finds an abandoned horse, she manages to persuade the whole village to help her nurse it back to health before discovering – of course – that it is a rather splendid racehorse. Stories like this are what fireplaces were made for curling up in front of.

It's not all lipstick and laughter, though, as Lee Child's hero Jack Reacher returns in Worth Dying For (Bantam, £16.99). Reacher is a preposterous hero – a largely silent caffeine addict who can break a man's neck with one hand – but Child's gift for pacing makes it almost impossible to start one of his novels without finishing. Worth Dying For is grade-A escapism.

Jeffrey Deaver also delivered a double whammy this year. As well as the summer's traditional Lincoln Rhyme novel, there was an autumnal extra in Edge (Hodder, £18.99), a stand-alone thriller featuring a Washington DC police detective targeted by a "lifter", trying to extract secrets from him. Less forensic than the Rhyme novels, it nods to the fact that Deaver is to write a new James Bond in 2011. He's mesmerising in whatever guise.

The biggest news on the thriller scene this year was Jo Nesbo. The Snowman (Vintage, £6.99) isn't the first of his crime novels to feature Inspector Harry Hole, but it is the one that confirmed his position as the go-to author for anyone suffering Stieg Larsson withdrawal symptoms. The comparison is unfair, though, as Hole is a fine character on his own merits and The Snowman's serial killer will haunt you long after the final page. And finally, Erin Kelly's debut The Poison Tree (Hodder, £12.99) proves her an author with an eye for the truly creepy. A crumbling Highgate house provides the setting for a psychological thriller that sees friends turning on each other in a most chilling manner.

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