Saturday 31 January 2015

Critics' top festive reads for your stocking fillers

Fellow writers, historians, journalists and commentators choose their favourite books from chick-lit to award-winners

Antonia Fraser

Writer; her next book, Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832 (Orion), is out in May

It has been a rich year for royal biography. I have enjoyed two in particular: Anne Somerset's Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion (HarperPress) takes a monarch generally perceived as much less exciting than her Stuart forebears and, with a great deal of literary panache, demonstrates that something like the reverse was true.

Queen Anne emerges as intelligent and sympathetic despite the cruelty of her gynaecological history: 17 children born and only one surviving to a proper childhood (he then died).

Jane Ridley's Bertie (Chatto & Windus) paints the story of Edward VII and his long, hectic life as Prince of Wales in vivid colours: no scandal is left unturned, and yet the depth and authenticity of the research make it clear that this is a serious, even magisterial work.

Jan Morris

Writer, whose Pax Britannica trilogy has recently been reissued by Faber

Two 2012 works of non-fiction seemed to me potential classics in their respective genres. Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (Hamish Hamilton) was a hauntingly beautiful addition to the school of visionary nature writing.

And Artemis Cooper's biography Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure (John Murray) proved magnificently that a somewhat over-eulogised hero could be well worth the eulogising after all.

Eoghan Harris


Two of my three crime selections for 2012 come from this parish. Luckily I can't be accused of favouritism in my first choice as the Crime Writers Association has already given Gene Kerrigan's The Rage the Gold Dagger they should have given him for The Midnight Choir.

Like Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, Det Sgt Bob Tidey goes down mean streets, including those in his mind, where the criminals are comparatively spotless compared with their political and financial delinquents who work the posher streets.

Although this is the kind of surreal story I normally hate, this blackly comic caper- which someone described as Dirty Harry crossed with Germaine Greer struck my funnybone. I suspect it might make a good cult movie.

My third choice, George V Higgins, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, first published in 1973, now re-issued by Orion, was long ago made into a cult movie of the same title.

Directed by Peter Yates and starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle at the peak of their powers, it sensibly stuck to Higgin's pitch-perfect dialogue. Elmore Leonard says it's his favourite crime thriller. No wonder.

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