One writer was lucky enough to get two entries – the wonderful Katherine Webb. Having loved her first book, The Legacy, she showed herself to be a writer at the top of her form with both The Unseen and A Half Forgotten Song. The Unseen had the most wonderfully drawn characters, a real shock in the last 100 pages and a modern story that worked really well as a counterpoint to the earlier one (how few authors achieve that difficult balance). As for A Half Forgotten Song, it was a mesmerising story of Mitzy’s obsessional love for artist Charles Aubrey and the extremes it drives her to. Again, the modern story was equally strong, and the narrative moved backwards and forwards in time quite seamlessly with none of that wrenching away that sometimes happens in dual time stories, with the threads wonderfully tied and drawn together. There were vivid descriptions of childhood Dorset and exotic and threatening Morocco, and the whole story was an emotional rollercoaster, and it has a great blackness about it that totally drags you in.
In a similar vein really, my third pick is The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. Again, I’ve enjoyed all her earlier books – if you haven’t already, do try The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden and The Distant Hours – but this one moved her writing into a different league for me. The whole book is so cleverly constructed, with endless twists and turns, and I found it absolutely un-putdownable. Again, Kate is an author at the very top of her form, weaving modern and historical threads so deftly.
Something different next, but again an author at the pinnacle of her powers – Dearest Rose by Rowan Coleman. I came late to Rowan’s books, but I’m so thrilled I have a whole back catalogue to catch up on.
Another book I approached with some trepidation was The Absolutist by John Boyne. I’m afraid people might miss this book – it’s classified as Gay and Lesbian on some websites, which could attract a limited audience, but it’s so much more than that. The structure of it is superb, alternating between the slow reveal of the First World War experiences of Tristan Sadler and Will Bancroft, and Tristan’s post war visit to Norwich to see Will’s sister. Beautifully written, the wartime scenes are every bit as real and harrowing as those in Birdsong, and the story is absolutely engrossing. This is a wonderful story of friendship and love and what true courage and bravery means. And the closing episode is really quite perfect.
A new writer next – and I’ve already read and absolutely loved her new one, Closure – but the book on my 2012 top ten is The Charter by Gillian Hamer. What first attracted me was the setting – Moelfre is one of my favourite places on Anglesey (I was brought up near Bangor), and my father has always told me stories about the sinking of the Royal Charter. But this book really has a bit of everything – really vivid and well-drawn characters, a strong sense of place, good dialogue, a rattling good story, a murder mystery, a touch of the supernatural, a treasure hunt, a thriller and adventure story, and well researched history backing it all up.