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Books, by Charlie Hill, Tindal St. Press, RRP£6.99, 192 pages
While on holiday in Corfu, scientist Lauren Furrows witnesses the mysterious death of a fellow tourist. Drawing on the help of unkempt bookseller Richard Anger, she discovers that the culprit was a manuscript by one Gary Sayles, an author who writes in prose of such cliché-ridden banality that reading it induces neurological collapse.
With advance copies of Gary’s lethally bad novel, The Grass is Greener, killing the literati in droves, Lauren and Richard try to prevent it from reaching the masses.
Charlie Hill’s satire on the book world is sharp, funny, and shrewd enough to subject both Gary’s popular mediocrity and Richard’s literary snobbishness (he celebrates avant-garde poetry on his blog, “The Bilious Bibliophile”) to the same ridicule. When The Grass is Greener is published and a plague unleashed, it is books that combine intelligence with accessibility – as this one impressively does – that are found to contain the cure.
Review by David Evans
Ace, King, Knave, by Maria McCann, Faber, RRP£14.99, 512 pages
This fine, exuberant historical novel, set in 18th-century London, tells two stories in parallel. The first concerns Betsy-Ann, a prostitute turned card sharp who lives in a Marylebone slum. Dissatisfied with her husband, a grave-robbing souse, she pines after “the Corinthian”, a former lover.
The second narrative follows Sophia, a young woman recently married to Edmund Zedland, a dashing nobleman whose manners seem suspiciously unrefined. As author Maria McCann alternates between the two we discover that “Edmund” and “the Corinthian” are the same man – the con-artist son of a brothel madam.
While Sophia’s character is a little underdeveloped, Betsy-Ann is brilliantly drawn, an intelligent, resourceful woman whose speech is spiced with pungent similes (her love rival is “pale and gooey as a gob of phlegm”) and ribald slang. McCann appends a glossary of the more obscure terms although “buggeranto” probably needs no translation.
Review by DE
Manhattan 62, by Reggie Nadelson, Atlantic, RRP£16.99, 418 pages
Reggie Nadelson’s Artie Cohen novels are customarily sardonic, idiosyncratic reads. But her new novel Manhattan 62 has bigger fish to fry.
It is the autumn of 1962 and the grotesquely mutilated body of a young Cuban man is discovered on the High Line railroad in New York. It is the second murder in the city that has left its victim with a tattoo of a worm and the words “Cuba Libre”. NYPD detective Pat Wynne has a politically sensitive case on his hands with espionage a possible element – and minds are concentrated by the fact that Cuban missiles are trained on the US. The tension is palpable.
Nadelson is fascinated by the paranoia of the period, but she also offers a loving celebration of early 1960s New York, a city alive with discussion and debate. As ever with this writer, the sense of place is crucial, but what really energises the narrative here is the political turmoil, ever present in the minds of her characters and readers.
Review by Barry Forshaw
The Sudden Arrival of Violence, by Malcolm Mackay, Mantle, RRP£12.99, 382 pages
Reviewers often groan at the hyperbole with which publishers adorn new novels, but with Malcolm Mackay it is justified. His poetic titles (The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter and How a Gunman Says Goodbye) are infused with the sense of menace that is the sine qua non of the genre while tipping the wink that this is crime writing with ambition.
The Sudden Arrival of Violence is the conclusion to Mackay’s acclaimed Glasgow trilogy. It takes us into the city’s dark underworld and begins with the death of a money man and a grass. Hitman Calum MacLean is eager to leave the profession he is so good at, but a smooth bowing out is not on the cards. Glasgow’s most dangerous mobs are at each other’s throats, and detective Michael Fisher fears a bloody criminal Armageddon.
The youthful Mackay has the command of a writer twice his age, and he has delivered a conclusion to his trilogy that is just as cohesive and forceful as his previous two books.
Review by BF