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Books: what to read this month

Looking for that next juicy read? Harriet Steel, the Surrey-based author of nine mysteries and four historical novels, reveals her five all-time favourite tomes. Bye-bye reading rut.

Wolf Hall

By Hilary Mantel
Before I started to write murder mysteries, I wrote historical novels, and that’s always been a genre I’ve enjoyed reading. Once rather looked down on as the poor relation of the literary world, it is now well regarded. The age of the Tudors has been explored many times but in Hilary Mantel’s expert hands, the story of how Thomas Cromwell rose to power in the cutthroat, high-stakes world of Henry VIII’s court comes over with unparalleled freshness and power. Immerse yourself, and if when you turn the last page you can’t bear to leave, there are two more books to look forward to.

The Nine Tailors

By Dorothy L. Sayers
No writer of vintage-style mysteries could entirely leave out the stars of the golden age of crime fiction. I’ve chosen this book in Sayers’ series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey for its intricate plot and wonderful evocation of village life in the 1930s. She always wrote with style and wit and The Nine Tailors is considered by many to be one of her best works.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

By Douglas Adams

I’m not a great fan of sci-fi but this classic is so brilliantly funny and inventive that I find it irresistible. The characters, from the hapless Arthur Dent to Slartibartfast, architect of the Norwegian coastline, are a delight. The many memorable lines have become part of most of our lives.

Chocolat

By Joanne Harris

This magical, feel-good novel has delighted millions since it came out in 1999. It’s a perfect read for lockdown, with an absorbing story and all the warmth and charm of rural France. For me it also has a particular association. When I was at the beginning of my writing career, I entered a BBC competition called End of Story. The idea was that unpublished writers would finish a short story begun by one of six well-known authors. I chose the story by Joanne Harris and was delighted to reach the final. The prize included a visit to Joanne at her home in the Yorkshire Dales where we three finalists had tea with her in the beautiful Victorian Japanese garden that Joanne and her husband only discovered after moving into the house and clearing an area of overgrown shrubbery. As we were chatting, one of us asked her for her advice to aspiring writers. Her reply was, “drop the word aspiring and just write”. It’s the best and most succinct piece of advice I’ve ever been given.

The Nation’s Favourite Poems

Edited by Griff Rhys Jones

Like Mark Twain’s, I think the death of poetry has been much exaggerated over the years. Although its readership has been diminished by the rise of other forms of literature, I think there will always be a place for it. Frequently, a good poem stays in the memory when many a novel is forgotten. There are plenty of brilliant anthologies around, but I’ve chosen this one as it contains so many of my favourite poems from the classic to the contemporary.

•••

Harriet Steel is the author of The Inspector de Silva Mysteries, a nine-book series set in 1930s Ceylon that follows the exploits of Inspector Shanti de Silva, the chief of police in the small town of Nuala.

Before turning her hand to mysteries, Harriet wrote four historical novels – Becoming Lola, Salvation, City of Dreams and Following the Dream.

Harriet lives in Ashtead with her husband and has survived lockdown so far thanks to Zoom, books, and wine. Although not necessarily in that order!

harrietsteel.com

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