www.list.co.uk/books Reviews Books

inches and minimal shock value, Liam McIlvanney successfully delivers a powerful thriller, rich in colour and skilfully imagined. Jobbing political hack Gerry Conway is in a bind when he receives a dubious tip-off about Scottish Justice Minister Peter Lyons. At first uninspired, he soon finds himself in Belfast, knee-deep in the sectarian violence of the past, caught up in a perilous search for loyalty and truth amidst decades of cover-ups and lies. As a debut outing, All the Colours of the Town refreshingly avoids cliché, and successfully discovers new ground within the Irish conflict, with McIlvanney’s snapshots of today’s news values and the hypocrisies etched at the heart of our political system giving the story pace and substance. The focus wavers a little in the middle but there is more than enough here to keep the reader intrigued before the inevitable pay-off. (Anna Millar)

COLLECTED JOURNALISM ARIEL LEVE The Cassandra Chronicles (Portobello) ●●●●●

‘There are two things in life I enjoy. Talking on the phone and drinking coffee. Better yet, talking on the phone while drinking coffee.

That’s about it.’ Welcome to the wonderfully dark and witty world of Ariel Leve. This collection of her much-loved Cassandra columns, which have been popping up in The Sunday Times since 2003, is packed full of laugh-out-loud one- liners and thoughtful observations on everyday life.

The NYC- and London- based scribe addresses everything from napping, queuing and her local deli man to therapy, friendship, Facebook and nosejobs in a series of short, snappy pieces driven by an extremely dry sense of humour and pithy sentences. In this forthright, funny and extremely honest offering, Leve says the unspeakable that you’ll doubtless have thought but felt instantly bad about and then tried to forget. Imagine the musings of an even more world-weary Enid from Ghost World, but for grown ups. (Camilla Pia)

SUPERHERO COMIC PAUL CORNELL & LEONARD KIRK Captain Britain and MI13: Secret Invasion & Hell Comes to Birmingham (Marvel UK) ●●●●●

The first two compilations of TV- writer Paul Cornell’s new run on Captain Britain kicks off during the huge Secret Invasion. Neatly setting itself in the Marvel universe, Cornell (whose credits include Doctor Who, Robin Hood and Coronation Street) has the Skrull invading Britain with the sole intention of stealing the source of all magic. The second collection, as the title suggests, brings demons and terror to the Midlands while vampire hunter Blade joins the team. There’s a certain thrill in seeing the action played


5 DEBUT NOVELS Sean O’Brien Afterlife It’s the blazing summer of 76 and four graduates rent a house in the middle of nowhere. When an American student comes into the mix, all hell breaks loose. Picador. Brigid Pasulka A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True The outbreak of WW2 cuts short the US-based courtship between Anielica and a man nicknamed The Pigeon. Their story is interwoven with that of another Polish girl in the modern day. Sceptre.

Robert Hudson The Kilburn Social Club Billed as ‘a story of love, idealism and identity in something like modern Britain’, featuring a top football club of opera singers, academics and South African freedom fighters. Jonathan Cape. Ru Freeman A Disobedient Girl A Sri Lankan-set tale about Latha who has left her orphanage to work as a servant to Thara, a girl her own age whom she believes she can outperform in life. Viking.

Neil Forsyth Let Them Come Through Nick Santini is a career psychic with a cancelled TV show, a failed popstar girlfriend and a life about to unravel horribly. Serpent’s Tail.

out on our shores, a rare sight in superhero comics. It’s a bit cheesy at times but never less than entertaining, though the team perhaps needs a bit more definition: most casual readers won’t know the history of characters such as Black Knight and SpitFire so there is a small level of confusion with regards to their powers and back-story. But this is a more than solid start to the rebirth of an iconic character. (Henry Northmore)

23 Jul–6 Aug 2009 THE LIST 35

SOCIAL NOVELLA MAGNUS MILLS The Maintenance of Headway (Bloomsbury) ●●●●●

It’s questionable what’s more unlikely about this sixth novel from Magnus Mills: that he’s managed to eke out 136 pages about the delicate art of driving a bus, or that he succeeds so well in making the job’s habits and peculiarities seem like a thrilling battle against nature. ‘Nature’, in this case, being the set-in-stone dictat of whichever shadowy planners devised the London bus system, and their emissaries on earth and street corners, the bus inspectorate.

At the time of his initial success (he was Booker-nominated for his 1998

debut, The Restraint of Beasts), much was made of the fact that the Birmingham-born, Bristol-raised Mills had once been a bus driver himself (and a fence-builder in Scotland, which gave rise to the theme of that first novel). It follows that this short tale is written with the kind of ingrained detail which can only be earned through well-drilled experience. One by the one, the characteristics of drivers, inspectors and passengers are dissected in clear, crisp prose which flows pleasurably by. The Sisyphean element of the job is elaborated upon with a metronomic

reoccurrence of statements, sentences and even whole chapter beginnings. In their fussy control over when precisely each driver must pass their arbitrary roadside checkpoints, the inspectors seek ‘the maintenance of headway’; in other words, ‘the notion that a fixed interval between buses on a regular service can be attained’. It’s an eye-opening window on an unheralded occupation, but Mills also hints in a broader sense at the impossibility of creating perfect order from the rhythms of a society of individuals. (David Pollock)

COMEDY THRILLER RICHARD ASPLIN Conman (No Exit Press) ●●●●● Comic memorabilia shop owner, young family man, and general nerd Neil Martin finds himself in a rollicking British fix: the stock- filled basement of his shop has been flooded and he’s been less than scrupulous with his insurance payments. Enter confidence trickster Christopher, a hopscotching grifter eager to pounce on any spot of bovver ripe for the ripping, and a long- winded sting unravels. The fall-out is

unfunny at moments, and although it makes for a generally light and crafty read, some laboured attempts at a specifically London sense of humour, embarrassingly-written females, and an over- reliance on the word ‘switcheroo’ anchor it firmly within the realm of the unremarkable. (Rosalie Doubal)

POLITICAL DRAMA LIAM MCILVANNEY All the Colours of the Town (Faber) ●●●●● In an age in which the sins of our politicians provide regular column

surprisingly stupendous and Neil is left in a much darker tangle of family and foe than the comical beginnings would have you expect. Richard Asplin’s High Fidelity-cum-British heist attempt at the comic thriller is excruciatingly