January 25, 2013 7:33 pm

In brief

Non-fiction

The Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters, by Mark Henderson, Corgi, RRP£8.99, 416 pages

 

Publicly funded scientific research is a well-evidenced driver of significant economic growth, Henderson contends, and as such it should logically be spared austerity. But The Geek Manifesto is not a plea for cash; rather, it is a passionate rallying cry for more scientific, evidence-based judgment in public life.

Henderson’s book includes examples of how science is traduced or simply invented to support flimsy ideas. Few of Britain’s 650 MPs have science backgrounds and there is a tendency towards using “spray-on evidence” to make selective scientific advice fit policies, rather than basing policy on tested evidence.

“Geek activists” have started using social media to challenge “quackery and pseudo-science”, which has had a demonstrable impact. Henderson applauds this mobilisation and demonstrates what a robust use of scientific appraisal could bring to a range of policies from health to education, justice to economics.

Review by James Urquhart

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Fiction

The Sweet Girl, by Annabel Lyon, Atlantic, RRP£12.99, 256 pages

 

Canadian author Annabel Lyon’s acclaimed first novel, The Golden Mean, vividly reconstructed the early years of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. This fine sequel, The Sweet Girl, centres on a more obscure figure: Pythias, daughter of Alexander’s mentor, Aristotle.

Attended by servants and doted on by her father, Pythias leads a privileged life in Athens. Curious and independent, she enjoys besting Aristotle’s students in philosophical debate. But when Alexander dies, sentiment turns against the warrior-king’s allies, and the family is forced to flee. Aristotle dies soon afterwards, and Pythias slips into a sordid underworld.

Lyon is an extremely skilful historical novelist. She makes ancient Greece accessibly familiar: Pythias speaks like any modern teenager, moaning affectionately about her bumbling dad. As the narrative progresses, however, Lyon conjures this cruel, superstitious society in all its visceral otherness.

Review by David Evans

. . .

Ratlines, by Stuart Neville, Harvill Secker, RRP£12.99, 416 pages

 

Ratlines were escape routes that allowed SS officers and other war criminals to avoid justice by using churches and monasteries as safe houses, in Europe and South America. Over the years, the Vatican and British intelligence networks have been charged with complicity. Nazi collaborators sought refuge in Ireland on the presumption that enemies of the British might find help there, a fascinating idea that forms the backdrop of Neville’s new thriller.

Now for the fictional part: by 1963 these Nazis are being picked off by assassins who warn they will not rest until their main target, Count Otto Skorzeny, is dead. It’s a problem for the government, which anticipates a visit from President John F. Kennedy.

Lieutenant Albert Ryan works for the Directorate of Intelligence and is charged with hunting these killers of evil men. The moral ambiguities touch everyone, not least Ryan. This is complex fiction with a disturbing ring of truth.

Review by Christopher Fowler

. . .

Gun Machine, by Warren Ellis, Mulholland Books, RRP£13.99, 320 pages

 

Nudity and violence arrive in the first paragraph of Ellis’s shotgun-blast of a crime thriller. The gun belongs to a naked crazy who blows away Detective John Tallow’s partner, exposing a secret: a New York apartment filled with weapons, each of which has been used to commit an unsolved murder. And the arrangement of guns suggests a deranged design. Tallow, “a cop who’s nine parts dead already”, sets off on the trail of the hunter-gatherer who created this sinister temple, and lands his cold-case team with the worst workload in history.

Ellis is a graphic novelist branching into literary crime, but he comes on like a supercharged Ed McBain, with prose that unearths poisonous graveyard humour. Tallow inhabits a world of amoral, exhausted lawmakers and psychotic criminals. The plot barely manages to remain on the right side of cartoonish, but generates a thunderous momentum. The result? A dazzling oasis in the desert of grimly identical police procedurals.

Review by CF

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