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relationships and politics of the era, Jahn proves himself as a promising noir talent. (Claire Sawers) COMEDY SERIES SUE TOWNSEND Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years (Michael Joseph) ●●●●●
Reneging on her statement that 2004’s Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction would be the final Mole book, Sue Townsend has returned to her most enduring creation in his 39th (and a quarter) year. That he’s back at all is some achievement, as the clinically blind Townsend must now dictate her novels to her husband. Whether or not the world needs a middle-aged Mole is another matter entirely. The Prostrate Years is
a tour of the frank but deluded Mole’s middle- class concerns, all presented in diary format. The breakdown of his marriage to Daisy, his son Glenn’s Iraq posting and a diagnosis with cancer are all fairly weighty subjects, but Townsend walks the gap between letter-to- the-editor concern (decrying Tony Blair as ‘a weak man who took us into war because of personal vanity’) and glib delusions (claiming Gordon Brown to be ‘Superman’). This will be best enjoyed by established fans of the series. (David Pollock)
EXISTENTIAL DRAMA ANNE RICE Angel Time (Chatto & Windus) ●●●●● Occasionally a book comes along that is so mind-bogglingly dreadful that it’s hard to find the words to
describe the depths of its naff, cliché-ridden banality. But let’s give it a go. This is the start of a new fictional series from Anne Interview with a Vampire Rice, about a deadly hitman who is redeemed while trotting around on time- travelling adventures courtesy of an angel. Quantum Leap for fans of tasteless, laughable cod-Gothic historical fiction, in other words. This outing sees our American assassin Lucky the Fox (yes, really) pointlessly plunged into the body of a monk in a hilariously corny 13th century Norwich to save some Jews from persecution. Rice’s style throughout is a mix of horribly over-egged melodrama and pseudo-spiritual existentialism which constantly grates. Her prose is unbelievably clunky and clumsy and her collection of cardboard characters would each benefit from a solid punch to the face. Simply appalling. (Doug Johnstone)
COMICS MEMOIR DAVID SMALL Stitches (WW Norton) ●●●●● Award-winning writer and artist David Small draws a line from Kafka’s Gregor Samsa to the mundane confessionals of Harvey Pekar in this moving and poignant memoir of a childhood spent in the grip of illness. As a 14- year-old growing up in a
lower middle-class neighbourhood of Detroit, Small woke up one morning to find himself mute, the result of a mishandled diagnosis and subsequent treatment of a tumour. From this shocking
start point, Small paints a raw portrait of a family in the grip of denial, repression, rage and frustration. Plotted and drawn with a minimalism, clarity and quiet humanity that calls to mind the later graphic novels of Will Eisner, Small is no stranger to the class and medical iniquities that disease his country (then as now), as the struggle for this child’s life becomes ever more desperate. (Paul Dale)
5 MEMOIRS Clement Freud A Feast of Freud The awfully witty collected musings of the liberal politician and dog- food lover (which he advertised rather than consumed) with a foreword from his youngest daughter, Emma. Bantam. Nicky Haslam Redeeming Features The arch designer has some intriguing tales to tell having hung out with the likes of Cecil Beaton, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol and Lady Di. Jonathan Cape.
Vincent Cable Free Radical Another respected liberal politician here (albeit an alive one) with some memories to share of his time in Cambridge, Glasgow and Kenya. Atlantic. Phyllida Law Notes to My Mother-in-Law Emma Thompson’s mum recalls a life lived through daily summaries which she left for her increasingly hard-of- hearing ma-in-law. Fourth Estate.
Richard van Emden Sapper Martin Subtitled ‘The Secret War Diary of Albert Martin’, this presents the reality of World War One with emotion and clarity. Bloomsbury.
5–19 Nov 2009 THE LIST 33
SOCIAL DRAMA ATTICA LOCKE Black Water Rising (Serpent’s Tail) ●●●●●
It’s perhaps unsurprising that the most vivid thing about Attica Locke’s vibrant debut novel is its key protagonist. Her former black civil rights activist turned ambulance-chasing attorney, Jay Porter, is partly based on the author’s father whom, one assumes, retained his scruples. Having exchanged his ideals for income, Porter nevertheless finds it increasingly difficult to make ends meet in Reagan-era, oil-oriented Houston, Texas, and it’s this wits-end state we find him in at the opening of the book that makes the character so dramatically compelling. A low-rent moonlight cruise along the city bayou proves to be an
underwhelming birthday celebration for his beloved wife Bernie, but when Porter discovers and drags a mute white woman out of the water, his shabby existence is further compromised by one of those nasty webs of intrigue, here involving the local law enforcement, politicians and labour unionists. Cutting back and forth between the past and the present, Porter’s activities as a radical involved with the Black Panthers on the University of Houston campus (which ended with him nearly being jailed for a long time) unfold in stark contrast to, but also convincingly explain his reluctance to take a principled stand and do the right thing. Locke, whose day job is screenwriting and is currently writing a HBO
mini-series about the civil rights movement, gets the blend of social commentary, characterisation, mystery and action just right. And the question of whether or not the book’s flawed protagonist will achieve some measure of redemption makes Black Water Rising a truly gripping read. (Miles Fielder)
NOIR THRILLER RYAN DAVID JAHN Acts of Violence (Macmillan) ●●●●● Ryan David Jahn’s first novel takes a rusty knife and taps into the same vein that gore fans like Quentin Tarantino or Frank Miller love aiming for. Set on the mean streets of 1960s Queens – which literally run with blood after the real-life rape and murder of Kitty Genovese – Jahn’s violent amorality tale has also drawn well-earned
comparisons with Bret Easton Ellis and James Ellroy.
It was Kitty’s neighbours’ reaction – or specifically lack of
one – that led psychologists to coin the term ‘the bystander effect’. Although her assault was witnessed by 38 people, no one phoned the police. Jahn’s cinematic thriller chicanes between them while preoccupied with racial prejudice, a Vietnam draft letter and a wife swap gone pear shaped to explain the apathy that sent ripples of unease through US society afterwards. Gripping, and layered with juicy, scathing insights into the