Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore

For any stable genius who is, like, really clever but has not considered all the complexities of – to take an example at random – the US recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem: The Biography is a good place to start. There is, one would imagine, enough sex and lewd talk in…

Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder On The Orient Express. As evocative titles go, it’s right up there. This modern reproduction of the 1930s Crime Club edition of the book even has what seem to be the original creases embossed on the dustjacket. Hercule Poirot would have admired the detail. The story begins in Syria – Aleppo, to be exact; the governess…

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

‘And none shall stop the Dark from rising!’ Think of this as an alternative Christmas classic. It starts conventionally enough: boy has birthday. Boy told of his unique power as part of a secret, magical brotherhood stretching back into pre-history. Boy understandably surprised. Boy meets destiny. Thus, the plot of The Dark Is Rising. The second…

The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach

In 2002, a wealthy 85-year old industrialist called Jean-Baptiste Meyer is murdered in his Berlin hotel. A sixtysomething Italian, Fabrizio Collini, is responsible. After 34 years’ blameless service as a toolmaker at the Daimler factory, he has snapped. Meyer is shot four times in the back of his head. It is an appalling crime which…

Autumn by Ali Smith

So how do we ever know what’s true? Elisabeth said. Now you’re talking, said Daniel. Elisabeth (teenage girl) and Daniel (elderly man) are discussing Goldilocks (an exchange which comes, by the way, with Ali Smith’s trademark absence of inverted commas). In Daniel’s version of the story, Goldilocks is a vandal who has broken in and…

State of Emergency by Dominic Sandbrook

‘For God’s sake, bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country!’ Home secretary Reginald Maudling (who admittedly did not need much of an excuse) spluttered this after a 1970 visit to Northern Ireland. Such gossipy titbits are a major reason why Dominic Sandbrook’s books on Britain since the 1950s are so entertaining –…