Books: In Brief

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Still Life with Volkswagens by Geoff Nicholson, Quartet pounds 14.95. Barry Osgathorpe, Volkswagen lover, is dragged out of his Zen retreat in a caravan at Filey to deal with a crisis: all over the country Volkswagen Beetles are exploding, and a neo-Nazi gang is on the track of one of Hitler's more private treasures. This is an acid and funny look at Britain in the Nineties - customised cars, oral sex, community mental health care and all - written with zest and an interesting use of documentary material. It's an engaging oddball of a book which deserves a less slapped-together ending. Anita Mason

The Earth Made of Glass by Robert Edric, Picador pounds 14.99. At the end of the 17th century, as the Church turns its attention from the casting out of devils to the consolidation of real estate, Robert Edric's protagonist is sent to Yorkshire to sell some Church property bound up with a young woman's murder. This Inquisitor with a heart - his kindly instincts fall wide of his job description - has no taste for retribution or brimstone and gets an uneasy feeling about the midwife whom the Northern rustics burned as a witch 30 years earlier. An unpleasant parson, a troubled magistrate and a cryptic stonemason of giant angels all block the Inquisitor, who gets into murkier waters than he bargained for. This award-winning author delivers convincing historical background, a few decent metaphysical posers and intriguing character studies, but doesn't seem to have supplied the full potential measure of suspense or atmosphere. Maggie Traugott