Conclave by Robert Harris

Robert Harris just can’t help himself. After 282 pages of taut thriller about a lot of very old men sitting in a darkened room and putting names in a (papal) hat, he goes and throws in an unnecessary complication. I won’t name the silliness that creeps in right at the death, but believe me it is ludicrous.…

A Social History of England by Asa Briggs

‘Don’t you find this book a little bit boring?’ ‘Umm…to be honest, yes I do a bit.’ My daughter put her finger on the problem. A Social History of England by Asa Briggs is indeed a touch dull in parts but till then I had not admitted this to myself. Much as I am fascinated by history,…

The Art Of Fielding by Chad Harbach

A classic example of what we might usefully term the First World Problem novel, The Art of Fielding allows the casual reader to spend more time in the company of amateur baseball players than is perhaps strictly healthy. I went away and looked up what ‘he also had to turn double plays’ really means –…

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

You are alone in the world surrounded by people whose only interest is in bleeding you dry. We’ve all felt like this, of course, but for Robert Neville it is a full-time job. He is the last surviving human in Los Angeles in 1976 after a plague has turned the rest of the population –…

Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz

A terrible title – but admirable, too. If you hadn’t already guessed, Trigger Mortis is a 007 follow-on novel and – even though the efforts by Sebastian Faulks and William Boyd were highly enjoyable – Anthony Horowitz is the first of the three to totally catch the tone of Bond’s/Fleming’s staggering snobbery – about everything, particularly food and clothes. For example,…

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

New York in 1746 is a small town of 7,000 people, perched at the end of Manahatta Island, a place which  English and Dutch influences vie: the Bowery is still the Bouwerij, Brooklyn is still Breuckelen. Here a young Englishman, Mr. Smith, arrives bearing a promissory note for £1,000 – an impossible sum of money. He is…