RURAL DRAMA ANNIE PROULX That Old Ace in the Hole (Fourth Estate $316.99) 0000

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Eagerly awaited indeed is Annie Proulx's fourth novel. but whether That Old Ace in the Hole can properly be considered as fiction is another matter. Describing in authentic detail modern day ranch life on the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. Proulx has fashioned something more akin to social history.

So. if you want to know why the locals hate pig farmers. how corporate ranching came to dominate the panhandles. and what exactly a panhandle is. look no further. If you want a driving piece of storytelling to match Proulx‘s best known novel. The Shipping News. you'd best. well, go back and read that.

Still, while her descriptions of the worn-out rugged land are overly dense with information you'd find in Big Earl 's Ranching Manual, her eccentric characterisations are as engaging as ever. If protagonist Bob Dollar wasn't so overwhelmed by Proulx‘s obsessive attention to panhandle detail, this would be a very great book indeed. (Miles Fielder)


Ghost Riders (Little, Brown £16.99) .00.

It's a pipe dream usually solicited by several weak pints and a traditionally unforgiving Scottish winter. Could you give it all up and take to the road? Are we really all too busy suffocating Our every whim with

material mediocrity or is

there still a place in this world for the genuine nomad? Richard Grant


Vernon God Little (Faber $12.99) 0...

The sum of DBC’s parts?

Ripping the piss out of American culture is akin to assembling many large fish in a tiny barrel and tearing into them with a semi-automatic. It’s still often done cack-handedly, mind. No such problems here, though, as bright new novelist DBC Pierre sets about his targets with vicious wit, unerring precision and enormous energy in what is, for a debut novel, remarkably assured stuff.

One critic claims this book is ‘like the Osbournes invited the Simpsons round for a root beer, and Don DeLillo dropped by to help them write a new song for Eminem’. Nonsense, obviously. What it’s more like is Elmore Leonard writing Catcher in the Rye as a TV movie script. Or something.

Anyway, the story concerns our eponymous anti-hero, Vernon Little, a teenager in the small Texan town of Martirio. Little is present when his best friend Jesus does a Columbine, blowing away 16 of their fellow students, and the novel concerns the aftermath of that horrific massacre. The subjects of media manipulation, small town prejudice and the justice system all come in for hilarious satirical kickings, and Pierre has populated his world with outrageous dysfunctional characters, imbuing every line with a

relentless morbid humour.

The plot is clinically constructed and well executed in page-turning style, although the ending does seem slightly too easy, and Pierre does have a tendency to overplay the farcical elements of his situations. Nevertheless, Vernon God Little is compelling stuff and heralds a most welcome new talent.

(Doug Johnstone)

believes there is. but you may need to hit the old American west to find them.

In this deliciously decadent book. Grant eulogises with wit and astounding knowledge the quilted passage that has left a certain type of American alpha male with a lust for the open road. The book's great length doesn't matter, for one could not wish for a better companion to share sizzling snake with under a ceiling of stars.

Ghost Riders is a lovingly textured account of genuine wanderlust to get you through these cold months. (Paul Dale)

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FRANCIS Prospect Hill (Fourth

Novelists and playwrights like to go in one of two directions: either upwards to the world of upper middle class manners or down to the underclass of struggle and conflict. Richard Francis takes the less travelled route to the middle ground. Prospect Hill is a pOrtrait of the fictional Costford on the outskirts of Manchester. a town populated by bank managers. estate agents. bookshop assistants and provincial politicians. Set in 1970. it's a shrewdly and lovingly observed world

of moderate ambitions. smalltown rivalries and subdued sexual passions. But though the concerns of his characters might be modest. Francis invests them with a real pulse of humanity.

Constructed with the precision. detail and complexity of a jigsaw. this playful novel unites a disparate band of characters through their tangential relationship to a proposed high-rise property development. There's something a tad inconsequential about it all. but it's a pleasure to be immersed in it. (Mark Fisher)


The Bone Vault (Little. Brown $10.99) 0..

It's been said that apparently serious institutions like libraries are a fertile breeding ground for sensational goings-on. Judging by her latest crime opus which opens with the discovery of a murdered intern inside an ancient


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Egyptian sarc0phagus Linda Fairstein feels similarly about museums.

The most striking. and occasionally distracting. thing about this fifth instalment in Fairstein's series on district attorney investigator Alexandra Cooper, is the sheer degree of detail in the author‘s portrayal of exhibits and practices at New York‘s Metropolitan and Natural History Museums. You can clearly sense the trainspotterish pleasure she gained researching the various deadly poisons used to preserve dead animals. perhaps somewhat at the expense of her main character.


Unlike the squad of wisecracking male investigators around her. Coop is a fairly enigmatic protagonist. dispassionately relaying everything she observes in a clipped. Chandleresque shorthand: ‘It was quiet . . . too guiet.‘ Otherwise. though, this is a persuasively plotted. speedy read for fans and newcomers alike. (Allan Radcliffe)

HISTORICAL DRAMA JOSEPH O’CONNOR Star of the Sea (Secker & Warburg 212.99) CO.

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Star of the Sea transports destitute Irish during the potato famine to America aka ‘the promised land'. Aboard are an aristocrat With a troubled past. a maidservant with a dreadful secret and a murderer. Hundreds more survive horrendous conditions in steerage and during the 26 days at sea. bitter resentments reach boiling pomt.

The evocation of the period is excellent and the backdrop of the famine truly harrowing. But unfortunately the actual story is less affecting. and rapidly descends into a 19th century EastEhde/‘s. No hitherto unknown connection between characters is overlooked. no coincidental meeting avoided and no twist forgone.

There are jokes: one character fabricates the entire plot of Oliver Twist so a Mr Dickens will feed him. but even this one-liner is IabOured over several pages. If you can withstand this then it is a fElSCllTEtIlHQ look at distressing times. OtherWise. read Oliver Twist itself for a bit of a laugh. (Anna Shipman)

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