Michael Ball’s Empire, Peter James’ Picture You Dead, Celia Walden’s Payday

Janet Gordon, who lives in Takeley, reviews bestsellers and early fiction for India…

My husband and I, and of course Rollo, have just spent four days in the most delightfully old-fashioned seaside resort of Sutton-on-Sea in Lincolnshire. Beach huts, a wide boardwalk and the most glorious golden sands – and the sun was shining.

We had a great time and that’s exactly what the waitress told us as she served us plates of fish and chips – two meals with the biggest chunks of haddock I’ve seen in a long time. “Here’s your whale and your fries,” she joked. And all at such reasonable prices.

Going back to all the washing and ironing, I was amazed when my cousin told me that she had been to a Christmas fair and had already bought some new decorations. And then I thought it was still summer.

Because I know, dear readers, that you like to be organized, I’m going to promote some of the books that I think will make perfect Christmas gifts.

Also, bookstores are no longer limited to books but selling impulse buys like games and cards etc. as stocking fillers, there will be some too, with contests you can enter.

The Six Who Came to Dinner by Anne Youngson (Penguin £9.99) and Cat brushing by Jane Campbell (Quercus £9.99)

Many readers struggle to read a long novel as much as they would like, so these two volumes of short stories are ideal.

The Six Who Came to Dinner is the first collection of short stories by author Anne Youngson. Her debut novel Meet Me at the Museum was shortlisted for the Costa Prize for Best First Novel and won the first Paul Torday Memorial Prize for Debut Fiction for Writers Over 60.

The first story features the title dinner with an unnamed host who prompts dinner tales, culminating in the host’s tale. The writing is lyrical, compassionate and insightful and you are bound to read on.

The Six Who Came to Dinner by Anne Youngson (Penguin £9.99) (59963244)

Story number two features the village housekeeper, Henrietta, who (literally) holds the keys to all the houses in the village – houses usually owned by secondary residents. Henrietta, tasked with caring for them, is content to appropriate flowers left alone after a weekend, food from the refrigerator that would otherwise die out, and so on.

Out early one morning, she sees a car left at a place where no one normally leaves a car and it’s still there hours later. The trunk is slightly opened and, of course, Henrietta opens it.

It’s a wonderful book, just like Cat Brushing. Written by an even older first-time author, it’s filled with short stories about the old lady’s world.

Cat brushing by Jane Campbell (Quercus £9.99) (59963252)
Cat brushing by Jane Campbell (Quercus £9.99) (59963252)

Inside nursing homes, living alone, struggling to stay relevant – it’s an ode to the reflections among our memories that we are all subject to as we age.

The Binding Room by Nadine Matheson (HQ £14.99)

I reviewed Nadine Matheson’s debut novel, The Jigsaw Man, in February when it was first published. This introduced DI Angelica Henley, who leads the serial crimes unit housed in a freezing, freezing police unit deep in Deptford.

The Binding Room is Henley’s second outing with his (rather) new partner Ramouter. We meet the duo again when they are called to the death of the pastor of the Independent Pentecostal Christian Church, discovered by the former cleaner. Searching upstairs, Henley discovers the barely alive body of a tortured young man.

The Binding Room by Nadine Matheson (HQ £14.99) (59963242)
The Binding Room by Nadine Matheson (HQ £14.99) (59963242)

We are once again immersed in the agonizing private life of Henley and Ramouter, with Henley undergoing therapy and Ramouter living away from home while his wife remains in Bradford and struggles with early onset dementia. Somehow, they manage to leave these demons behind as they investigate what turns out to be a gruesome tale of worship, exorcism, and ritual murder.

They also have to contend with racial slurs and slights from the pastor’s wife who feels that because she and Henley are people of color, they must think the same, while disparaging Ramouter since he is Asian.

It’s a very dark and thoughtful read and Nadine Matheson’s background as a criminal lawyer shines through.

Picture You Dead by Peter James (MacMillan £20)

With Detective Superintendent Roy Grace now (sorry) gracing the small screen, the novels of Peter James need no introduction.

In this latest Dead novel, Grace must very quickly discover the rarefied world of art collectors, auctions and those hidden collectors who will stop at nothing to acquire the painting they desire. Even to murder.

Picture You Dead by Peter James (MacMillan £20) (59963250)
Picture You Dead by Peter James (MacMillan £20) (59963250)

Once again, Peter James gives us a complex and compulsive read that amply deserves its place in the bestseller charts.

Payday by Celia Walden (Sphere £8.99)

While Piers Morgan, love him or hate him, wreaks havoc on television screens, his wife Celia Walden is quietly becoming a writing force to be reckoned with.

Now out in paperback, Payday is an explosive tale of three women who, sitting together with a bottle or two or three, agree that they’ve all been ripped off, in one way or another, by the boastful Jamie Lawrence.

Payday by Celia Walden (Sphere £8.99) (59963248)
Payday by Celia Walden (Sphere £8.99) (59963248)

They all agree that he is guilty and that they have to do something. And then he is found murdered. Was it just the bravado of the drunken girls or…

Payday gallops absolutely, you will love it.


The Empire of Michael Ball (Zaffre £20)

Singer, actor, DJ, TV presenter and part of a comedy duo with Alfie Boe, you can’t help but love Michael Ball’s winning personality.

And, after selling out solo tours and twice winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical, he’s now also a writer.

The Empire takes place in the theater world of old. Well, why not write what you know?

The Empire by Michael Ball (Zaffre £20) (59963246)
The Empire by Michael Ball (Zaffre £20) (59963246)

Jack Treadwell, back from World War I, finds his way into becoming the doorman and all-around caretaker of the Empire, a magnificent theater owned by the Lassiters and coveted by Joseph Allendyce who owns a rival chain of theaters, but decided that he would like to make The Empire a movie.

There’s a cast to rival Downton Abbey, echoes of The Good Old Days (remember that TV series?), a cute dog and a sweetheart. There is tension, trickery and entanglements.

It’s a crazy, wonderful read and I predict every Michael Ball fan will want this under their Christmas tree. It comes out in November, so you have plenty of time to sneak in some nifty reading before wrapping it up as a gift!

PS Check out his website at www.michaelball.co.uk for an unmissable contest.

Alycia R. Lindley