BOOK REVIEW / In brief

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The Independent Culture
Deadwoodby Pete Dexter, Flamingo pounds 5.99. Sex, spirits (the swallowable sort) and shoot- outs spice this new novel from the author of Paris Trout. Wild Bill Hickock may initially disappoint by drinking pink gin and taking half an hour to empty his 'peeder' because of a 'blood disease', but in his ability to keep emotion at bay and know where the next bullet's coming from he's all man. In Deadwood guys walk around with severed heads in bags and whores are beautiful if they've still got front teeth. Dexter deals affectionately with his cast of crazies and, as in all true-spirited westerns, it's the good who triumph because they have 'mending hearts'. Verity Mason

The Cloud Chamber by Dai Vaughan, Quartet pounds 12.95. Twenty years after her death, the work of an avant-garde composer is to be performed at a memorial concert. A visit from a great-niece to the composer's sister prompts a series of spiteful and unreliable reminiscences. In interweaving documents and voices from the past, the novel shows us another story - of brilliance struggling against non-recognition and of a daughter's affection for an unworldly father whose only strong conviction was that Schubert's Ninth Symphony was written for the steam organ. An odd and fascinating novel, written in prose occasionally so baroque as to be unreadable. Anita Mason

Out of America by Susan Schmidt, Serpent's Tail pounds 8.99. The typical protagonist in this polished short story collection is a prickly middle- aged American woman with ex-lovers strewn in her wake. She is found either displaced in London, railing against lousy wages and faithless men, or blowing in the wind with other dried- out flower children of California or New Mexico. Abundantly ironic, Schmidt seems most in her stride when testing 'the Special Relationship' for snapping point. Maggie Traugott

One Dark Body by Charlotte Watson Sherman, Women's Press pounds 6.99. Black culture having been swallowed by a white beast, the author uses the speech rhythms of her people to conjure a return to ancestral African knowledge. In a small American town, Sin Sin serves his apprenticeship as a seer, while on a more homely level Raisin must forgive the mother who abandoned her. The dovetailing of the magical and quotidian by a new novelist who shines with an affirming flame. Verity Mason

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