I’ve recently come to fall in love with the TV show, Death in Paradise. It is this fantastic show set in Jamaica, where a British policeman is brought over from the U.K. to solve the murder of another British policeman. It is filled with both humor and drama, and it has quickly become a favorite.
So what books would I recommend? Well, obviously first is:
1. A Caribbean Mystery (Miss Marple #10) by Agatha Christie
Stricken with arthritis, Miss Jane Marple has packed herself off, at the insistence of her nephew, for some rest and relaxation at a resort in the Caribbean. The sea is sublime and the weather is fine in this quiet paradise so far away from bustling St. Mary Mead. But suddenly the calm is interrupted by the death of Major Palgrave, one of her fellow guests at the hotel.
Miss Marple finds herself quite disturbed by this turn of events. She’d just spent the previous evening speaking with the major, who’d seemed to her to be in perfectly good health. He’d been telling her about a photograph that he had – “a snapshot of a murderer..,” he’d claimed. Convinced that the major’s death was not at all natural, she begins to ask difficult questions. It soon becomes clear that a murderer is lurking among her companions at the hotel, and it is up to Miss Marple to root out this person before he or she can strike again.
2. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Wide Sargasso Sea, a masterpiece of modern fiction, was Jean Rhys’s return to the literary center stage. She had a startling early career and was known for her extraordinary prose and haunting women characters. With Wide Sargasso Sea, her last and best-selling novel, she ingeniously brings into light one of fiction’s most fascinating characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This mesmerizing work introduces us to Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Mr. Rochester. Rhys portrays Cosway amidst a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.
A new introduction by the award-winning Edwidge Danticat, author most recently of Claire of the Sea Light, expresses the enduring importance of this work. Drawing on her own Caribbean background, she illuminates the setting’s impact on Rhys and her astonishing work.
3. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
On New Year’s morning, 1975, Archie Jones sits in his car on a London road and waits for the exhaust fumes to fill his Cavalier Musketeer station wagon. Archie—working-class, ordinary, a failed marriage under his belt—is calling it quits, the deciding factor being the flip of a 20-pence coin. When the owner of a nearby halal butcher shop (annoyed that Archie’s car is blocking his delivery area) comes out and bangs on the window, he gives Archie another chance at life and sets in motion this richly imagined, uproariously funny novel.
Epic and intimate, hilarious and poignant, White Teeth is the story of two North London families—one headed by Archie, the other by Archie’s best friend, a Muslim Bengali named Samad Iqbal. Pals since they served together in World War II, Archie and Samad are a decidedly unlikely pair. Plodding Archie is typical in every way until he marries Clara, a beautiful, toothless Jamaican woman half his age, and the couple have a daughter named Irie (the Jamaican word for “no problem”). Samad —devoutly Muslim, hopelessly “foreign”— weds the feisty and always suspicious Alsana in a prearranged union. They have twin sons named Millat and Magid, one a pot-smoking punk-cum-militant Muslim and the other an insufferable science nerd. The riotous and tortured histories of the Joneses and the Iqbals are fundamentally intertwined, capturing an empire’s worth of cultural identity, history, and hope.
4. Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue, Zarité—known as Tété—is the daughter of an African mother she never knew and one of the white sailors who brought her into bondage. Though her childhood is one of brutality and fear, Tété finds solace in the traditional rhythms of African drums and in the voodoo loas she discovers through her fellow slaves.
When twenty-year-old Toulouse Valmorain arrives on the island in 1770, it’s with powdered wigs in his baggage and dreams of financial success in his mind. But running his father’s plantation, Saint-Lazare, is neither glamorous nor easy. It will be eight years before he brings home a bride—but marriage, too, proves more difficult than he imagined. And Valmorain remains dependent on the services of his teenaged slave.
Spanning four decades, Island Beneath the Sea is the moving story of the intertwined lives of Tété and Valmorain, and of one woman’s determination to find love amid loss, to offer humanity though her own has been battered, and to forge her own identity in the cruellest of circumstances.
5. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene
Graham Greene’s classic Cuban spy story, now with a new package and a new introduction
First published in 1959, Our Man in Havana is an espionage thriller, a penetrating character study, and a political satire that still resonates today. Conceived as one of Graham Greene’s ‘entertainments,’ it tells of MI6’s man in Havana, Wormold, a former vacuum-cleaner salesman turned reluctant secret agent out of economic necessity. To keep his job, he files bogus reports based on Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare and dreams up military installations from vacuum-cleaner designs. Then his stories start coming disturbingly true.
6. The Tailor of Panama by John le Carré
‘A work of rare brilliance’ The Times
Charmer, fabulist and tailor to Panama’s rich and powerful, Harry Pendel loves to tell stories. But when the British spy Andrew Osnard – a man of large appetites, for women, information and above all money – walks into his shop, Harry’s fantastical inventions take on a life of their own. Soon he finds himself out of his depth in an international game he can never hope to win.
Le Carré’s savage satire on the espionage trade is set in a corrupt universe without heroes or honour, where the innocent are collateral damage and treachery plays out as tragic farce.
‘A tour de force in which almost every convention of the classic spy novel is violated’ The New York Times Book Review