This week’s top fiction includes Lucy Mangan’s clever writing and The Gardener, by Salley Vickers. A relentless thriller from Michael Connelly, Claire Keegan, the latest in this week’s Best New Fiction

These little things are just the beginning

Claire Keegan                                                                                                      Faber £10

Set in 1985, Keegan’s novella probes the history of Ireland’s notorious Magdalen laundries. Protagonist Bill Furlong has done well as a coal and timber merchant, but in the run-up to Christmas he has a troubling encounter while delivering to the local convent, which doubles as a girls’ ‘training school’, and is compelled to look back on his own challenged start in life. 

Beautifully written story of courage and complicity.

Hephzibah Anderson 


The Gardener

Salley Vickers                                                                                             Viking £16.99

Margot and Hassie, their sisters, purchase an abandoned manor house in the Welsh border after the death of their father. There, Hassie, who’s an illustrator recovering from a broken relationship and prickly with high-flyer Margot, devotes herself to the restoration of its garden with the help of Murat, an Albanian migrant. 

This is an intelligent and quiet hymn to nature’s healing power, with its delicately drawn characters. Delightful.

Simon Humphreys


Is it still fun?

Lucy Mangan                                                                           Souvenir Press £16.99

All Liz wants is a moment to herself – ideally with a book and her cat. Standing in her way are her family, with their endless demands; her ‘Infant Boss’ and her indefatigable enthusiasm; and the queen bees of the PTA who stalk the school playground in search of victims. 

So far, so Motherland, yet while it doesn’t score highly for originality, Mangan’s writing is warm, witty and invigorated by righteous anger.

Amber Pearson


Dark Hours

Michael Connelly                                                                                             Orion £20

The consistently excellent Connelly’s latest thriller faces up to the challenges of contemporary policing: especially Covid and calls to ‘defund the cops’. It’s against this backdrop that overworked detective Renée Ballard juggles two cases: a pair of serial rapists and a gangland murder. 

The plotting is as skilful as ever, and the pacing as relentless, but this time there’s a troubled awareness that the police are not always the good guys.

John Williams