Andrew Masterson The Last Days (Picador £7.99) a v 1

’Jesus died for somebody’s sins,' Patti Smith once claimed. 'But NOT minel' The Last Days finds the Son of God alive and hungover, dealing smack in downtown Me|b0urne and sleuthing on behalf of a dipso priest If that isn't enough, the local cops are on his back, the Feds are on his tail and an International network of porn-peddling fundamentalist crazies are nipping at his heels. Plus Andrew Masterson has the poor guy listening to the Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails on hrs day off. And you thought crucifixion was a t0ugb gig.

A pacey and assured debut with a nice line in the sardonic and sacrilegious, this is a cut-above Supernatural thriller that reads well up to the last 50 pages and a finale with more twists and turns than Dead Man's Curve. Postmodern Scooby Doo-ism of the silliest order but a page- turner of much merit (Rodger Evansi


Jason Cowley Unknown Pleasures (Faber £9.99)

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Jason Cowley is not the first Journalist to diverSify into fiction and undoubtedly he wrll not be the last. An established and respected back, this former staff writer of The Times currently works part-time at the New Statesman.

His debut novel follows the Journey of Joshua Winter, who arrives in London from Canada, twelve years after his father’s strange disappearance from the capital. Ostensrbly there to take up a 10b and escape the memory of a recent tragedy, he instead becomes obsessed wrth uncovering the truth about his mysterious father,

Led knee-deep into London's underworld where nefarious and equally intangible characters collude to keep Joshua from the truth, what follows is a sophisticated and skilfully crafted thriller which also works as a haunting study of loss As you'd expect, Cowley packs his sentences wrth power and meaning, allowrng the

104 THE U31 2? Ju't-«b Jul 2000

reader freedom of imagination and deductive reasoning (Catherine Bromley)

HOLIDAY FICTION Kevin Sampson Leisure (Cape) w s


As the Vengaboys so ably put IL 'we're all gomg to Ibiza, we’re gonna have a party' For Leisure’s hero Pasternak, the song should hold true with two weeks of sex, drugs and cheesy rock and roll Except, this is the Costa Del Sol and at 21, mobile phone millionaire Pasternak has never even kissed a girl

Away from the clubs, Shaun and Hilary are trying to rescue their marriage Unfortunately, Shaun is more interested in mountains and Hilary’s attention is focused on Matt, a fellow package holidayer While there are nice moments in the Shaun story, Pasternak's many moments of self- dOubt and anxiety keep the book readable and verging on the PITJOYHIHP

While KeVin Sampson’s follow-up to Powder may bring to mind your own holiday memories, the ending is so far- fetcbed you may find yOurself reaching for a bucket A book to be seen with on the Costa Del Sol beaches (Aly Burt)

SHORT STORY COLLECTION Tom Franklin Poachers(Flamingo £6.99) 4

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Deep in the wooded swamplands of Southern Alabama, men are still hunting and shooting to the point of envrronmental marlness, refusing to

come into line with a world that has changed beyond their understanding These are their stories and they are as raw as they are barbaric

This remarkable debut collectron of short stories initially comes on like Fever Pitch for Charlton Heston's NRA lobby but then halfway through the first story, a stranglehold of dark, murderous fear takes hold and doesn't let go. Comparisons to Faulkner and Carver have all been made, and this author is part of a movement of fine Deep South writers who have come to the fore in the last decade, particularly Harry Crews and Prckney Benedict. Benedict is an interesting case in pomt, in the mid-90s, hrs short story collectrons were astonishing, but hrs first novel was weak and derivative. Tom Franklin should beware. (Paul Dale)

SATIRICAL FABLE Liz Jensen The Paper Eater (Bloomsbury £9.99)

Harvey Kidd is a grey man The unlrker hero of Liz Jensen's third novel gets hrs dull pallor from chewing paper all day long in a not-so-drstant future where one Atlantic island shuns government in favour of a customer-foursed computer-run sooety.

This 'Utopian' state has made Harvey a prisoner on one of its penitentiary ships, where he sits creatrng a paprer mache chess-set and rec0untrng the circumstances that brought hrm to this fate A computer fraudster wrth an imaginary family to keep hrm company, Harvey's dysfunctronal existence drives this satirical take on consumerism

Jensen's sharp prose vrvrdly creates a society where aromatherapy orls pervade the atmosphere to dictate moods, and Head Office monitors calls to the Customer Care line to sniff out disSidents. That the rsland of Atlantrca and rts inhabitants seem so credible is a tribute to Jensen's ability to liberally sprinkle imaginative flair over a narrative that speeds along with ferOCious momentum. (Louisa Pearson)


Michael Frayn

Headlon (Faber £6.99) w s i a Michael rayn's Booker-shortlisted novel is as rich and engagingly chaotic: as the Bruegel canvas that provrdes the book‘s centrepiece Yet, Head/orig opens ciuietly

enough, nearing the end of an academic sabbatical, young philosopher Martin Clay identifies the classic Dutch painting among the shabby collection of a dilapidated cOuntry pile. From here on in, the plot descends into classic farce as Martin fabricates an increasingly complicated scheme to acquire the work,

Frayn expertly combines black humour with occas'o'ial moments of pathos to explore the pleasures and power of art and the allure of filthy lucre. As the once upright Martin sinks ever deeper into his own contrivance, shady deals are cut and he dupes everyone around him, ;ncluding himseIf

Frayn's brilliant stroke is to make Martin's innocent appreciation of the painting and his breathless investigation into its pOSSIbiIities so infeCtIOus that the reader becomes entirely complicit in his dishonest machinations (Allan Radclrf‘e‘r

CANINE FICTION Paul Auster Timbuktu (Faber £6.99) * a a


It's been five years since Paul Auster wrote a novel The last time he tried (with Lu/u On The Bridge) it turned into a screenplay which he then directed. It has yet to be released. That w0uldn't have worked wrth Timbuktu, the story of a man and his dog told mostly from the (intelligent) canine’s perspective, Simply isn’t filmable. But Timbuktu reads well enough.

When Mr Bones' beloved master, self- proclaimed saint and vagrant poet Willy 6 Christmas, kicks the bucket, the dog is left to fend for himself miles from his Brooklyn stomping ground in downtown Baltimore. His experiences as a disenfranchised animal mirror humankind and give us two-legged readers pause for thought.

Auster's short novel is written wrth humour, compasSion and pathos, but can only go so far. Or maybe there’s only so much to do With a thoughtful mutt. Footnote: Paul Auster owns a dog. (Miles Fielder)

BOOKS REVIEW Continued on page 106


a, i. w a w Unmissable a, g ~ A Very 900d n a » Worth a shot

Below average You've been warned