From literary big hitters to gripping thrillers – it’s the ultimate 2020 books preview

With new releases from big beasts of the book world, including JM Coetzee, Sebastian Barry, Hilary Mantel and Roddy Doyle, as well as a host of exciting crime fiction and lots of intriguing works from local writers, the first half of 2020 is a mouthwatering time for bookworms, whatever genre you might be in to.

Here are some of the most appetising books to look forward to:



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By Francine Toon (Doubleday Ireland)

A Gothic Highlands psychological thriller to kick off the year? Why not. The buzz for this fiction debut by Scottish poet Toon has been building nicely, and a sneak peek suggests the hype is justified.

Six Wicked Reasons

By Jo Spain (Quercus)

If you emerged from Christmas convinced your family is the weirdest, seek out this new Spain whodunnit. A large, entitled clan of bickering ne’er-do-wells are put on edge when a presumed-dead sibling walks back into their midst.

Your own family skeletons will seem quaint by comparison.

The Hungry Road

By Marita Conlon-McKenna (Penguin Ireland)

The beloved author of Under the Hawthorn Tree returns to the Irish Famine, this time through an altogether more grown-up prism. The Blight comes to Skibbereen in 1845, forcing a seamstress, a doctor, and a priest to fight for survival. The story is inspired by real-life Irish heroes, we’re told.

The Boatman and Other Stories

By Billy O’Callaghan (Jonathan Cape)

O’Callaghan’s My Coney Island Baby was one of the standout literary fiction items last year, introducing us to a writer of searing emotional intelligence. This short story collection from the Costa-shortlisted Corkonian shouldn’t be too dissimilar.

The Death of Jesus

By JM Coetzee (Harvill Secker)

Rounding off the trilogy begun with The Childhood of Jesus and The Schooldays of Jesus, the two-time Booker winner and Nobel laureate continues to follow the displaced protagonist David (now 10 years old) through the strange ways of the world.

Keep Your Eyes on Me

By Sam Blake (Corvus)

Two women get chatting on a plane and find they’ve both been at the receiving end of the rotten men in their lives. A pact made between them gradually gets out of hand. Sounds like just the kind of gritty mischief Blake – or Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, to her friends – is regarded for.

American Dirt

By Jeanine Cummins (Tinder Press)

A major froth is gathering over this third novel from Hiberno-American Cummins, with murmurs that this could be one of the standouts of the year. A Mexican mother and son flee their middle-class existence and join the caravan of migrant refugees seeking a better life in the US. Timing is everything, they say, and never more so than in publishing.


By Rob Doyle (Bloomsbury)

A welcome return for Doyle. The young Dubliner’s third novel looks like a kaleidoscope of druggy hedonism and philosophical awakening, with a narrator who is said to be a livewire buzz in themselves.

How to Break Up With Fast Fashion

By Lauren Bravo (Headline Home)

Newsflash – your shopping addiction is fuelling a vast and toxic clothing industry that clogs the environment and eats your brain. Bravo was a chief offender herself, but here takes us through treating this least discussed polluting habit.

Uncanny Valley

By Anna Wiener (4th Estate)

Those who relished watching Mark Zuckerberg being grilled before Congress should look into this memoir about a publishing staffer who joined the Silicon Valley goldrush, only to discover that the hoodies-and-sneakers class of tech giant weren’t necessarily the good guys. Who’d have thought a bunch of entitled super-rich web addicts would have ethical blind-spots?

The Enigma of Arthur Griffith

By Colum Kenny (Merrion Press)

Dubbed “the father of us all” by Michael Collins and a central weave in the nationalist tapestry, Arthur Griffith here gets a timely re-examination in the build up to the anniversary of his death in 1922 while still President of Dáil Éireann. Kenny also delves into the Sinn Féin founder’s relationship with Yeats and Joyce.

Isabelle In The Afternoon

By Douglas Kennedy (Hutchinson)

A hot and heavy love affair between a young American student in Paris and a married older woman that plays out over decades. The French capital has been a fertile fiction hunting ground for Hutchinson in the past so this could work out splendidly.

You’re Not Listening

By Kate Murphy (Harvill Secker)

It should be easy, but the truth is that listening to those around us, even our closest loved ones, is becoming harder and harder in this world of constant noise and interference. New York Times contributor Murphy delves into this modern curse and what we can do about it. Timely.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

By Deepa Anappara (Chatto & Windus)

“What a privilege to be one of Deepa Anappara’s early readers,” sighed Anne Enright about this hotly tipped debut by the Indian human rights journalist. Set in a fictional slum in northern India, it tells of a nine-year-old detective on the hunt for his missing friends.

The Conference of the Birds

By Ransom Riggs (Penguin)

A fifth title in the mammoth-selling (nine million copies and counting) Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series. Reports of the demise of younger book readers look to have been greatly exaggerated.


Strange Hotel

By Eimear McBride (Faber)

We’re all in agreement about McBride’s brilliance so let’s just shoot on. This third novel from the author of The Lesser Bohemians and A Girl is a Half-formed Thing follows a woman in and out of a series of hotel rooms where fears and desires are wrestled with.



By Rye Curtis (4th Estate)

A 72-year-old lady lost in the Montana wilderness with nothing but a bible. A park ranger drinking her way through a messy divorce. A motley crew of rescuers setting out to find the elderly woman, who it turns out may have stumbled upon a lifeline. Like the sound of all that, so we do.


The Guest List

By Lucy Foley (Harper Fiction)

The Hunting Party made Foley the breakout star of the congested thriller genre in 2018 and went on to mop up on the bestseller lists. No pressure, then, for this follow-up that sees a wedding on a remote Irish island turn into a riot of murder, mystery and motives.


Big Girl, Small Town

By Michelle Gallen (John Murray Press)

Derry Girls meets Eleanor Oliphant is the pitch for this debut from Tyrone author Gallen. An unremarkable young woman in small-town Ulster is trying to keep her head down in life, but the plan is rumbled when her dear grandmother dies. A nice tragi-comic waft off this.

The Paper Bracelet

By Rachael English (Hachette Ireland)

A former nurse in a mother and baby home finds meaning in her life following the death of her husband; she will reunite those women with the children stripped from them. Redemption with a side-order of detective work, and no one better than English at the helm.

Grown Ups

By Marian Keyes (Michael Joseph)

A façade of urban perfection cracking under the weight of one or two dirty little skeletons in the cupboard. An oft-trodden path these days, sure, but in the hands of a master like Keyes, one that has the potential to float with twinkle-eyed divilment and levity.


By Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape)

While she awaits the Nobel Prize, Enright might as well keep adding to her sublime catalogue. A mother-daughter saga set against the backdrop of post-war Hollywood, London’s West End and Dublin, with Enright smuggling the big themes and crushing truths into those intimate spaces, should do the job nicely.

Mr Men In Ireland

By Adam Hargreaves (Egmont)

Mr Chatterbox travels to Ireland, perhaps the only country where he won’t get a word in edgeways. There, he kisses the Blarney Stone, visits the Giant’s Causeway, and inhales a burrito on the way home from Coppers (only messing – Mr Quiet is tagging along, and Mexican food gives him heartburn). It remains to be seen if this visit to the Emerald Isle by Hargreaves’ imperishable children’s book series features white water rafting in the IFSC.

The Temple House Vanishing

By Rachel Donohue (Corvus)

Donohue looks to be the latest name to join the ranks of Ireland’s proud female thriller-writing tradition. This debut tells of two best friends in an elite Catholic boarding school, the teacher they pine over, and a devastating secret that won’t stay buried. Make what you will of the Daphne du Maurier comparisons.


The Secret Guests

By Benjamin Black (Penguin)

John Banville smuggles himself into another mystery under the guise of Mr Black, this time spinning out a yarn based on a popular historical rumour that two young royals were secretly shipped over to Ireland during the Blitz to keep them safe.


Escape Routes

By Naomi Ishiguro (Tinder Press)

Daughter of Kazuo, Naomi Ishiguro looks to have inherited her father’s abundant literary imagination. A potent seam of magic realism is said to run through this debut short-story collection, as well as a dash of absurdist humour.


What Makes Us Stronger

By Freya Lewis (Seven Dials)

When a terrorist device detonated at Manchester Arena in May 2017, Lewis was standing just three metres away. While badly injured and in a coma for days, she miraculously survived. A year later, Lewis took part in a charity run, raising £60,000 for the hospital that saved her life. This is her memoir.


Gaff Goddess

By Laura de Barra (Penguin Random House)

De Barra’s glammed-up DIY know-how has won her a legion of followers in the Instagram age. Gathered here is the Cork-born Londoner’s fund of home improvement tips and hacks, along with a slick visual look by the sometimes-illustrator’s own hand.



By John Boorman (Faber)

Wicklow’s second most famous film icon reminisces on a life in the director’s chair and the huge fund of experience and lessons he’s accrued. Also on board are the highs and lows of family life.


The Big Goodbye

By Sam Wasson (Faber)

Much mythologised as something of a 1970s Hollywood Holy Grail, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown certainly warrants this in-depth retelling of how the film’s cinematic stars came into alignment, and in doing so, became part of Tinseltown history itself.


By Darran Anderson (Chatto & Windus)

Inventory promises to be a cathartic and revelatory work of creative non-fiction, what with its multi-generational memoir about lancing the boils of family discord and community violence in Northern Ireland.



No Escape

By Arlene Hunt (Hachette)

Between running up mountains with giant dogs and reviewing films on national radio, Hunt somehow manages to put out quick-fire crime novels with alarming frequency. Her 11th charts a Dublin gangland feud where honour amongst thieves is all but dead.



By Colum McCann (Bloomsbury)

Never one to shy away from a challenge, McCann pitches his tent amid the animosity and zeal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, charting a profound friendship that transcends the bitter divide. A possible talking point this year, provided it does the business.




By Anakana Schofield (Fleet)

Like your fiction safe and linear? Then stay the hell away from this much-anticipated new offering from Schofield, a writer who defies categorisation. Perhaps the only thing you could take for granted about this first-person “novel in warnings” is that the Canadian-based Irishwoman will mine a rare seam of dark and light.


The Liberation of Brigid Dunne

By Patricia Scanlon (Simon & Schuster)

Powerhouse Dubliner Scanlon returns with all the goodies – a family reunion, four headstrong women clashing, a staggering revelation and an explosion.


Laura Cassidy’s Walk of Shame

By Alan McMonagle (Pan Macmillan)

Another coming-of-ager from McMonagle, this time charting the fortunes of an aspiring actress seeking to break out of her nutty village environs and hit Hollywood. If this is anything like McMonagle’s debut Ithaca, the narrator’s voice alone will be worth the admission fee.


The Weight of Love

By Hilary Fannin (Doubleday Ireland)

Always a writer of pronounced musicality and agility, Fannin comes good on her years as one of Ireland’s great colour columnists with this debut novel about a relationship playing out over time and “how we manage life when the notes and beats of our existence, so carefully arranged, begin to slip off the stave”.

A Thousand Moons

By Sebastian Barry (Faber)

The great laureate returns to the wretched beauty of 2016 Costa-winner Days Without End. Thomas McNulty and John Cole are living life on a farm in 1870s Tennessee, trying to do right by Winona, the orphan girl they have adopted. Barry simply operates at a tier that precludes mediocrity, so you can bet the house on this.


The Mirror & the Light

By Hilary Mantel (4th Estate)

Mantel caps off her Thomas Cromwell trilogy that began with Wolf Hall’s unstoppable march to literary greatness. As we settle into Cromwell’s final years, there is as little security as ever from fickle monarchs, and he must continue to survive on his wits. This will fly off shelves and hopefully maintain the lofty standards we’re used to.


My Dark Vanessa

By Kate Elizabeth Russell (4th Estate)

Try this on: at 15, Vanessa had a sexual relationship with a teacher that she swears was love. Now 32, she is horrified to learn that the same man is being accused of rape by another former student. With the tide of 2017 pounding on her door, she is being asked to redefine the great love of her life as a rapist. US debutante Russell dons the oven mitts for this hot potato.



By Alice Lyons (Lilliput)

It’s never too late to publish your first novel. So says poet and artist Lyons, 57, whose Celtic Tiger tale of a young Irish artist finding her way in the New Jersey suburbs was snapped up by Lilliput in October. A nice change from the publishing industry’s obsession with young debutants. Fun fact: the letter ‘o’ does not feature anywhere in the entire book.


Our Little Cruelties

By Liz Nugent (Penguin Ireland)

When the end of March rolls around, be sure to draw the curtains, switch the phone off and cancel your plans for the weekend. Nugent has a new ‘whydunnit’ hitting the shelves with yet another deliciously dark tagline: three brothers, one in a coffin, and one with blood on his hands. A fourth chart-topper in a row for Queen Liz has to be on the cards.


A Natural Year

By Michael Fewer (Merrion Press)

It’s a well-worn mantra that nature is all around us, and that if we are to reconnect with it, we must immerse ourselves physically in it. Arriving in time for spring, this seasonal diary from walking guru Fewer should help set that in motion.


Thinking Again

By Jan Morris (Faber)

More diary style musings from the great non-fiction spinner about all manner of things, from the natural world to Brexit, to youth and beauty. At 93, they don’t come wiser than Morris.


My Autobiography

By Rory Best (Hodder & Stoughton)

Along with Joe Schmidt, biographies of Ireland’s two outgoing leaders were secured long before the team’s deflating ejection from the Rugby World Cup last October. While the final chapter mightn’t read how he’d have wanted, there should be plenty of interest here from the amiable Ulster hooker, who became our most successful international rugby captain ever.

Hitching for Hope

By Ruairí McKiernan (Chelsea Green)

When not founding social youth movements (SpunOut, Uplift), sitting on the Council of State, or giving Ted Talks, McKiernan found time to hitchhike around Ireland in search of the heart and soul of a nation in flux. His book about the experience promises a candid and inspirational journey into the spectrum of Irish voices.



By Sara Baume (Tramp Press)

She is best known for an excellent brace of novels Spill Simmer Falter Wither and A Line Made by Walking, but Baume is also a visual artist of repute. This non-fiction debut sees the annoyingly talented Cork creative explore what it means to spend every day pursuing artistic inspiration and deep emotional fissures.


Our Bodies, Their Battlefield

By Christina Lamb (William Collins)

Rape as a tool of war has a long and horrific history. Award-winning war correspondent Lamb pours 30 years of frontline experience into this examination of the shocking scale of sexual assault in modern conflict. Among the depressing facts are one single conviction since rape was formalised as an international war crime in 1919. An urgently needed call to justice.



The Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?

By Daisy Kendrick (Piatkus)

Empowerment is key to solving climate change. Ocean Generation founder Kendrick here collects inspirational anecdotes, worrying statistics and practical tools to help us do our bit.


The Dirty South

By John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton)

To the Deep South we go for this new murder mystery from the peerless Connolly. It’s 1999, and someone is murdering black women in Arkansas. Grief-stricken NYPD detective Charlie Parker is about to rise from the ashes of tragedy and become a hunter.


Exciting Times

By Naoise Dolan (W&N)

Finance, sex, cynicism and unspoken feelings are swirled together in a can labelled ‘Hong Kong’ in this modern love triangle from first-timer Dolan.



By Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press)

It’s 1596, and a young boy in Stratford-Upon-Avon seeks help for his fever-ridden twin sister. Their famous playwright father is away in London, you see, unaware that one of the two will not survive the week. This reimagining of the origins of Hamlet by Ulster star O’Farrell sounds intriguing.


The Portrait

By Ilaria Bernardini

(Allen & Unwin)

Anguished by the death of her secret lover of 30 years, a woman commissions the man’s wife to paint her portrait so that she can be close to his family home and life. As one sits and one paints, things begin to materialise. This English-language debut by Italian bestseller Bernardini has a compelling ring to it.

The Cutting Place

By Jane Casey (Harper Fiction)

It’s starting to feel like we’re never more than a few months away from a new Casey crime fiction release. This latest is the ninth DS Maeve Kerrigan title in a decade from the award-winning Dublin thriller machine. Kerrigan wades into the sordid world of elite gentleman’s clubs after a journalist goes missing. Casey has these down to a fine art at this stage, so wallets at the ready.


You Have To Make Your Own Fun Around Here

By Frances Macken (Oneworld)

Mayo writer Macken makes her debut with this small-town saga about three girlfriends who have their union rocked by the arrival of a glamorous interloper. A cutting wit is said to run through this tale of jealousy and longing.


A Ghost In The Throat

By Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Tramp Press)

‘Doireann’ (as she’s often simply known) makes her prose debut with what is being billed as “a fluid hybrid of essay and autofiction”. Assume unorthodox lyrical manoeuvres from the gifted Galwegian.


Sing Backwards and Weep

By Mark Lanegan (White Rabbit)

Grunge didn’t exactly leave a host of survivors to tell the tale, which is why this memoir from Lanegan is one to mark in the diary. From his ragged days fronting The Screaming Trees, through to his rebirth as a guest vocalist with Queens of the Stone Age and on to becoming a respected solo artist, this should be a grizzled, unflinching account of the needle and the damage done.


How To Fall Apart

By Liadan Hynes (Hachette)

Fans of her podcast will know Hynes is an open book herself. This personal development title sees the columnist and mother share the hard-won wisdom gained following a major bump in the road.


Lyra McKee: Lost, Found, Remembered

By Lyra McKee (Faber)

The murder of Lyra McKee in Derry last April reverberated massively across these islands, arousing furious anger that a gifted young journalist should be gunned down in her prime. This collection of writings and essays goes some way to honouring her ­memory.



By Ben Hubbard (William Collins)

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Bin Salman has become a notorious figure, thanks to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the state-sponsored murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Based on years reporting from inside the ultra-conservative Arab state, Hubbard traces the rise to power of the Saudi ruler.


Notes From An Apocalypse

By Mark O’Connell (Granta)

The award-winning To be a Machine author takes a personal journey into these supposed calamitous times, exploring what it is to live in an era when things are beginning to feel beyond repair. Presumably cheerier than it sounds.


The Butchers

By Ruth Gilligan (Atlantic)

Set against the backdrop of the BSE crisis, this rural Irish murder mystery drips with sharp-edged revenge, courtesy of novelist and Irish Independent contributor Gilligan.


The Great Imperial Hangover

By Samir Puri (Atlantic)

Formal empires might no longer be referred to in such terms but if you think their presence is not still being brought to bear, you aren’t paying attention. Puri, an expert in international political history, looks at how imperial structures and legacies never went away.




By Roddy Doyle (Jonathan Cape)

Two lads meet up in a salty Dublin boozer and, over several creamy pints, proceed to open up to each other about the love and loss they carry in their hearts. Business as usual, you’re thinking, but the 1993 Booker winner always finds ways to push buttons without you fully noticing.


Diary of a Young Naturalist

By Dara McAnulty (Little Toller)

Fifteen-year-old Ulster naturalist and Asperger’s activist McAnulty comes of age.



By Sophie White (Hachette)

Columnist-turned-novelist White clanged the proverbial zeitgeist gong with Filter This, an on-the-money debut about hopeless Instagram addicts getting themselves into aspirational knots. This sequel was always in the works and should keep White’s many fans topped up with both her trademark brand of observational humour and piercing eye for modern absurdity.


The Motion of the Body Through Space

By Lionel Shriver (The Borough Press)

Off-colour her views may be, the truth is the literary world would be a duller place without Shriver’s lacerating wit and audacity. Here, a couple in the autumn of their years find ­themselves on opposing sides of the fitness craze and all its lycra-clad madness. Devilish laughs with an edge of dark obsession are mooted.

Tongues of Fire

By Seán Hewitt (Jonathan Cape)

Hewitt’s debut poetry collection is said to bring together sex, grief, loss, violence, strength, fragility, the natural world and a deep sense of the spiritual. All the basics covered, so.


We are Not In The World

By Conor O’Callaghan (Doubleday Ireland)

Like his Cork namesake Billy, O’Callaghan goes into the microfibres of what is left after an extra-marital affair comes to an end and a father looks to repair the relationship with his daughter during a haulage job across France. Expect a few bludgeoning blows en route to redemption.


The Story of China

By Michael Wood (Simon & Schuster)

Acclaimed historian Wood composes a single-volume examination of China’s origins and evolution so that we might better understand the Asian superpower and second biggest world economy.

Land of Big Numbers

By Te-Ping Chen (Scribner)

Another title that draws back the veil on China, this time using fiction to pick the cultural lock. Te-Ping Chen was stationed in both Beijing and Hong Kong, reporting on all sorts of social ills which she presumably feeds into this collection of short stories.


I Saw Him Die

By Andrew Wilson (Simon & Schuster)

Wilson continues his fictional series that speculates on what Agatha Christie got up to when, in 1926, mystery writing’s grande dame disappeared for some months (solving murders in exotic climes, naturally).




By David Mitchell (Sceptre)

Clonakilty’s favourite adopted son and author of the magnificent/impenetrable (delete as appropriate) Cloud Atlas, Mitchell returns to the fold to saga a fictional rock band living through interesting times. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid set a new standard in such novels but Mitchell is as canny as they come.


The Summer I Robbed A Bank

By David O’Doherty (Penguin)

‘The DOD’ takes a break from award-winning stand-up for a foray into children’s literature with this Walliams-esque tale of a lonely schoolboy helping his uncle rob a bank.


The Silent Wife

By Karin Slaughter (HarperFiction)

Just in time for summer hols comes another thriller from the mega-selling US crime maven. Plot details are sketchy thus far but it is said to feature investigators Will Trent and medical examiner Sara Linton.



By Lucy Caldwell (Faber)

A second short-story outing for the tireless Ulster author and playwright, this time placing the focus on “the steps and missteps of young women trying to find their place in the world”. Caldwell is becoming a weighty presence on the literary fiction landscape.


As You Were

By Elaine Feeney (Harvill Secker)

Much is promised from this prose debut from the great western poet and NUI Galway lecturer.


This Happy

By Niamh Campbell (W&N)

An affair with an older married man and a stirring-up of the mud of those heady days years later, triggered by a ghost from the past. Campbell’s debut is being likened to Eimear McBride, Ali Smith and Claire-Louise Bennett.

The Book of Kells

By Victoria Whitworth (Head of Zeus)

That most famous of manuscripts gets a deep and affectionate examination and reappraisal by historian Whitworth. Central to this work is a delving into the many mysteries surrounding those who crafted it and what their true intentions were.


OK, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea

By Patrick Freyne (Penguin Ireland)

Will Freyne’s debut be the next evolutionary step in the Pine/Gleeson essay-excellence thread? Who knows, but this collection of ruminations on the world (everything from crap jobs to homelessness) as the Irish Times scribbler sees should be an entertaining night in at the very least.

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