A strange premise for a thriller by Thomas Harris, an irresistibly charged novel by Lara Prescott and a poignant tale by Philippe Benson
The Second Sleep
Robert Harris Hutchinson, £20
A young priest arrives in an Exmoor village in 1468 to conduct the funeral of his predecessor, who has died in mysterious circumstances. Quite how mysterious soon becomes clear.
Unknown to the village yokels, they are living in a post-apocalyptic world, 21st-century civilisation having been set back hundreds of years by some unspecified catastrophic event.
So what went wrong to obliterate our cosy world of laptops and high-speed trains? It is a strange premise for a thriller, but Robert Harris is such a wily old hand that it is a pleasure to accompany him on his time travels.
The Secrets We Kept
Lara Prescott Hutchinson, £12.99
Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago sits at the centre of this debut novel about passion, heroism and the power of endurance. It’s set at the height of the Cold War, when the CIA tried to smuggle the suppressed manuscript of the Russian classic out of the USSR.
Shuttling between the Soviet Union and Washington, the story unfolds through a shifting – sometimes distractingly so – cast that includes Pasternak, his muse and mistress, Olga, and secretaries from the CIA’s typing pool.
Irresistibly charged and vividly imagined, it’s told with a breezy confidence that sets the pages flying.
Lie With Me
Philippe Besson Penguin, £8.99
A successful novelist is on a book tour when an unexpected encounter brings back memories of his brief, clandestine love affair with another teenage boy in a small town in Bordeaux in the mid-Eighties.
Dubbed the French Brokeback Mountain, this slight novella has been translated by none other than Molly Ringwald. It’s a poignant tale that captures the intensity of first love with all its sadness, longing and regret – and the ending is heart-breaking.