Jane Rogers (Little, Brown £15.99) * i it *
A modern-day fairytale, not in the frothy sense, but with a harsh grimness (or perhaps Grimmness) running through it, this contains glimpses of brutality now edited out of politically correct bedtime reading.
Nikki Black, after a childhood of mistreatment and bitter loneliness, comes to the conclusion that her wretched state is the fault of her natural mother who abandoned her at
birth. Intent on taking revenge in the form of her mother's life, Nikki traces her to a Hebridean island where she discovers not only the woman she feels has destroyed her chances of happiness, but also a brother. An unworldly and apparently uncomplicated man, his stories of history and magic on the island have a resonance with Nikki as the truth about her life unfolds.
An intense and interesting book, Island shares the fairytale trait of ambiguity, so it is uncertain as to whether the requisite happy ending is finally achieved. (MS)
FUTURISTIC CRIME Christendom
Neil Cross (Jonathan Cape £10) **** In a near future, where a
fundamentalist American state has won the nuclear war and is on the brink of winning the state-controlled peace, Malachi Thorndyke smuggles in that which the Messianic President, Randall Staad, fears most — non- prescribed information. Thorndyke’s war had as many vicious secrets to stain his brain as anyone's, but his time spent guarding an archaeological dig in the Holy Land, and debating the nature of Jesus (the man) with an archaeologist, is what he remembers willingly.
Violence and philosophy are the twin peaks upon which Cross impales his writing. And if the level of violence has reduced somewhat from the unadulterated, visceral, plot-twisting hurt of his debut, Mr /n-Between, then
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he has replaced that with an equally raw appliance of philosophy. This is well-constructed writing, however, which is more subtle than a first reading implies and leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions about the nature of machismo and the Messiah. (TD)
Safe As Houses
Carol Anne Davis (Do-Not Press £7.50) * *1:
Young women are dying in Edinburgh. Horribly, it must be said, but it’s not on purpose. All David does is pick them up and take them back to his Secret House to sexually brutalise them — but then they just seem to break. The suspense is not in finding out who is committing these crimes, or even why, but in when Jennifer, David’s innocent, fragile wife, will find out the truth.
Carol Anne Davis describes the mundanities of David and Jennifer’s lives in a style so obscenely matter-of- fact as to be almost naked. It is perfect to compare the suffering which has been inflicted on both - on him through violence, on her through kindness — and how they pass this suffering on. But this naive style, or at least Davis's use of it, is not adequate to understand the really interesting character here - Jennifer. A strong idea which does not carry out the promise of its intentions. (TD)
The Long Firm
Jake Arnott (Sceptre £10) * *** No wonder plans were afoot to turn Arnott’s polished debut into a BBC drama before it even hit the bookshops. Set in London's East End in the 19605, it’s got sex, gratuitous violence and drug abuse, elements no self-respecting ratings winner can do without.
The novel charts the rise and fall of Harry Starks, gangster, sociology graduate and Judy Garland fan, through the interlacing tales of five of his associates: catamite, Tory peer, second-rate henchman, fading starlet and sociology lecturer. Use of narrators from different steps on the social ladder, with varying degrees of involvement in gangland life, renders
Starks more than just a one- dimensional, besuited Cockney hardman.
Convincing dialogue and the co- mingling of real characters from the time with fictional ones (the Kray Twins put in an appearance) mean Arnott manages to present a thrilling, realistic representation of the tawdry glamour of the gay underworld in the 19605. (DK)
The Lord Of The Barnyard
Tristan Egolf (Picador £6.99) ****
If psychotic rednecks, inbreeding and inappropriate liaisons with farm animals dominate your perception of the American Midwest, Tristan Egolf isn’t about to change your mind. His highly inventive debut relates the turbulent history of one John Kaltenbrunner, chicken farmer, goat fancier and dangerous man to know, and the rural community reduced to chaos by his antics.
The story goes that the extremely young and photogenic Egolf was discovered whilst busking around Paris, which is both a PR dream come true and a reasonable excuse for the fact that the furious pace of his prose occasionally allows enthusiasm to eclipse technique. In any case, the brash, unpolished style is wholly in keeping with a tale of rustic depravity that overflows with dark humour and imagination. Exuberantly grotesque, yet sensitive in its treatment of its rogues’ gallery of characters, this is a work that should keep its author off the streets for the foreseeable future. (HM)
Toni Davidson (Rebel Inc. £9.99) * ‘k * *
It would be clearly false to say that paedophilia is the new rock ’n’ roll but creative types are making hay out of the formerly ultra-taboo subject. We've had Todd Solondz and Happiness and Tim Roth with the forthcoming The War Zone. And now, Rebel Inc's Toni Davidson launches his debut novel with a traumatic trawl through similar territory.
Scar Culture is the story of two psychotherapists, their experimental