Golden Hill, by Francis Spufford, Allen & Unwin.
The word “rollicking” could have been invented for this hugely enjoyable novel, set in the early days of New York. The town is still a parochial mud-patch when Richard Smith arrives from London, carrying a money order for a thousand pounds – though he will tell no one how he got it, or what he intends to do with this sum. Will the merchants honour his bill? Is he a con man or hero? And will he win the love of his creditor’s daughter, sharp-tongued Tabitha? Told in the language of the time, I had huge fun with this book, noted in many best-of lists; it reminded me of why we read, to be immersed in other lives and times, and Spufford has married his history with the sense of adventure and derring-do that brimmed through the 18th-century stories.