Desert God by Wilbur Smith (read by Mike Grady) HarperCollins(audiobook) It is 50 years since Wilbur Smith, now 81 years old, first unleashed When the Lion Feeds on an unsuspecting world. Smith's novels haven't changed much in the interim, if Desert God is anything to go by. The fifth of his "Egyptian novels", it whisks up a potent brew of sex, violence, political intrigue and manly friendship. Its hero is one of the more unlikely in modern popular fiction. Taita first appeared in River God as a freed eunuch slave, and ascended to become a powerful warrior and politician advising the young Pharaoh Tamose in a divided Egypt. In Desert God Taita launches offensives against Tamose's sworn enemy, Hyksos, and negotiates alliances with King Nimrod of Babylon and the Supreme Minos of Crete. Central to this latter task is maintaining the virginity of Tamose's sisters. Mike Grady's deep, venerable tones make this vivid nonsense about castration, love, farting, war and Taita's very high opinion of his powers seem almost credible. But then, who ever read Wilbur Smith for credibility? J by Howard Jacobson Jonathan Cape (e-book) Howard Jacobson's J is for many commentators the favourite for this year's Man Booker Prize. In one regard this is hardly surprising: Jacobson carried off the award in 2010 for The Finkler Question . But in other regards it is a refreshing nomination. J is a strange, elliptical and challenging work. It begins as a love story between two strange coves in the remote town of Port Reuben: an aimless artist called Kevern and the wild Ailinn. Both share a mutual attraction and confusion about their past. This turns out to be a common ailment. A rather vague holocaust has befallen this dystopian world - known only as "what happened, if it happened" - and the world has colluded in finding cultural, political and artistic means to maintain a cover-up. Kevern and Ailinn find themselves at the heart of attempts to right this sustained wrong. Jacobson's prose pops and fizzes with humour and rage as he confronts how self-hatred becomes an effective tool of genocide. The novel takes some working out, but if you stay with it, J will stay with you. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (read by Julia Whelan, Kirby Heyborne) Orion (audiobook) Just when you thought Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl couldn't get any bigger (or better), Hollywood made it into a movie directed by David Fincher and starring Ben Affleck. The film takes some liberties with Flynn's original: reducing two points of view (the husband-and-wife team of Nick and Amy Dunne) to just one (Nick). The story is darkly familiar from any number of tabloid headlines. A young woman goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary. Her husband appeals for information, but soon becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance, in part because he increased her life insurance, but also because the public see him as a cold fish. Flynn weighs Nick's present with the Dunnes' marriage, deftly throwing red herrings in our way, twisting our sympathies and preconceptions around her little finger. Kirby Heyborne sounds appropriately cool, smart, stiff, and hard-to-read, while Julia Whelan's smooth, soft and even innocent tones sound like butter wouldn't melt. Superb.