FICTIONAL BIOGRAPHY ALBERTO MANGUEL Stevenson Under the Palm Trees (Canongate 97.99) 0..

What a queer little book. Alberto Manguel is an acclaimed and experienced writer of fiction and non-fiction and here in this slight volume (100 pages. large typeface. massive margins) he blurs the two together in an intrigUing and quirky tale. Essentially. Stevenson is a reworking of the famous Jekyll and Hyde story with that tale's author. Robert Louis Stevenson. as the main characterisi. RLS saw out his final years in the Samoan islands and Manguel evokes this sumptuous and fetid backdrop well as he recowits a tale which steals equally from Stevensons diaries and fiction.

Manguel's style is playful as he develops the author's familiar theme of the duality of human nature. although it's hard to figure out exactly what the point of such a regurgitation is. You could do worse than give this book a whirl as an interesting diversion, but better adVice would be to revisit the original masterwork itself. (Doug Johnstonei

FU TURIS'I lC COME DY ROB GRANT Incompetence (Gollanc/ 579.99) 0000

Waitresses with Tourette's. receptionists With Inappropriate

Sexual Response and cops with “non-specific stupidity'. Welcome to the not-so-distant future where. in the good 01‘ United States of Europe. article 13199 adds to legislation about the bendiness of bananas and decrees that no one may be fired on the grounds of incompetence. This is something of a hindrance to our here. An undercover detective. he is convinced that a series Of high profile ‘accidents' are actually perfect murders. but can he find the perpetrator without getting knocked off himself? And will a police chief with anger management issues let him?

Political correctness gone mad is an old joke. and the results of being unable to fire people for being bad at their job will be cringingly familiar to anyone who has ever dealt with local councils. But Rob Grant. the co- creator of Red Dwarf, pulls this off magnificently. Incompetence is not Only genuinely funny, it's a gripping thriller to boot. (Anna Shipman)

MAGIC HISTORY PETER LAMONT The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick

(Little. Brown $14.99) .0.

The fakir throws a rope skywards. It ascends till the end is lost to sight. A boy climbs the rope and disappears or. in a gOry twist. is killed. his body parts thrown to the ground. He then reappears. miraculously unharmed. As Peter Lamont. the former president of the Edinburgh Magic Circle. notes: ‘A legend does not surVive on accuracy.’ This endlessly spun yarn became a cause celebre of Victorian myth and misinformation,

composed from the oriental whispers of ancient seribes. the snake oil sensationalism of the media and the wiles of conjurors. jugglers. rogues and chiselers.

Whether it began in 14th century China or a Chicago Tribune article of 1890. the tricks seizure of Western imagination and beyond cannot. as the author outlines. be dismissed as purely hypnOSis or hashish induced. Despite an incessant tendency to score points off pompous Victorians. Lamont has succeeded in capturing the tricks timeless allure. producing a compelling histOry of one of the greatest feats probably never seen. (Jay Richardson)

CRIME THRILLER BRAD MELTZER The Zero Game (Hodder 8 Stoughton 5:14.99) .0.

Brad Melt/er's fifth Capitol Hill-set thriller features the most outrageous McGuffin opener since Hitchcock killed off his heroine in the first reel of Psycho. With Meltzer's rather feeble protagonist despatched after 60 pages courtesy of a red herring subplot in which government interns bet on seemingly innocuous legislation the heroic mantel passes to alpha-male- with-humble-past Harris Sandler. His close friendship with the dead man suddenly makes him the prime target for a shadowy hit man.

It's at this point that Melt/er's plot descends into out-and-out silliness. Harris flees on a government plane to South Dakota with teenage White House page in tow. bound to investigate why a defunct goldmine is the SUDJSCI of hostile protection from a sinister

mining firm. Daft it may be. but Meltzer's tale is delivered at such a breathless pace. with one eye squarely on the inevitable action-packed movie treatment. that even cynics will be drawn in and propelled through its pages. (Allan Radcliffe)


Sundowners (Orion €9.99) 00.

Lesley Lokko's debut novel is a tumultuous mix; romance meets rites of passage drama meets political incursion. Sadly. after something of an epic 462 pages. none of this heady mix escapes



Wish I May (Picador £15.99) .0

unscathed. Rich bitch white South African diamond heiress Rianne de Zeote meets at an English boarding school three girls whose lives are about to change forever. One of them is Riitho, a ‘native' SOuth African whose father is a political prisoner.


What ensues is a painful shift into adulthood as they come to terms with the past. their creed and political allegiances. The characters are tenderly written but painfully cliched in places and one untimely demise seems an unnecessarily plot device. but that aside. Lokko‘s skill is in composing both intimacy and universality. The Borges epigraph at the beginning of the book reads: ‘We talked. and you have forgotten the words.‘ Apt for a book that weakens its impact by covering too many bases. (Anna Millar)

pirited Piéarclt‘ggiis‘to m;

When Ruth Picardie finally succumbed to breast cancer in 1997, she left

behind a sea of mourners who’d never even met her. Such was the impact of her ‘Before I Say Goodbye’ column in the Observer that it felt as though we’d lost a relative. So when one of her family, sister Justine, took up where Ruth left off, we were more than happy to attach ourselves to her instead. Published five years after Ruth’s death, If the Spirit Moves You chronicled Justine’s attempts to contact her sister beyond the grave, through a raft of psychics and after-life specialists. And while her obsession with death was a little worrying, at least the characters were

utterly fascinating.

Which is more than can be said of Picardie’s fictional debut. Wish IMay follows Kate, a north London single mum, as she struggles to find happiness beyond Prozac. Unable to move on from the death of her mother 17 years earlier, nor the demise of her marriage five years previously, she flounders aimlessly until - bingo - a man comes along to save her. If Kate had, for even a moment, suffered the problems any real single mum does (financial hardship, childcare difficulties) then she’d have been believable. But her whinging, middle class angst just makes you want to grab her shoulders and shout ‘move on.’

Essentially, this is Mills and Boon masquerading as serious literature, but it’s too wordy for fans of the former and too inane for the latter. In fact, it’s hard to know where this book belongs, except perhaps on Picardie’s laptop, which is where it should have stayed. (Kelly Apter)

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