Books: Paperbacks

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A First Rate Tragedy

by Diana Preston,

Constable, pounds 9.99,

269pp

THE FAMILIAR story of Scott's catastrophic polar slog is given additional psychological depth in Preston's highly accomplished account. Scott emerges as an introspective, humane man, prone to the "black dog" of depression and a belief in his own ill-luck. He expended much effort in drumming up sponsorship from Colman's Mustard and Oxo, though he failed to acquire the dog-handling skills which resulted in Amundsen's triumph. Another 350 yards a day and his party would have survived - but we would have lost a classic tale of British pluck.

Sex and the City

by Candace Bushnell,

Abacus, pounds 6.99, 228pp

THE MOST encouraging thing about Candace Bushnell's book (and the TV series based on it) is that life for 35-year-old singles is one up on being 25 and single. Bushnell's female thirtysomethings are less likely to sleep with the wrong man, wear the wrong clothes or share with the wrong room-mates. Based on her column for the New York Observer, Bushnell's canape-sized bites of Manhattan life stylishly capture a clubbing and dating scene that you might have thought had died out with Nell's and Jay McInerney.

Diana

by Julie Burchill,

Orion, pounds 7.99, 230pp

LIKE PIGGING out on Kettle Fries, there is a guilty pleasure in consuming Burchill's prose. Irresistibly moreish but mad, this is both a love letter to the most beautiful girl in the class and a no-holds-barred rubbishing of the monarchy ("that monumental blockage in the S-bend of public life"). Diana's excesses, such as the pounds 3,000 a week (excluding clothes) she spent keeping up appearances, are excused, while Charles is lambasted: "Against him, a sloth would have looked wonderful". The flaw in Burchill's thesis is that without the royals, there would have been no Diana.

Royal

Whodunnits

edited by Mike Ashley,

Robinson, pounds 6.99, 434pp

THESE TWO dozen tales about dark doings within palace walls are painfully bathetic. In a "prequel" to the Scottish play, we learn how Macbeth "allowed a smile to spread across his features" after committing a grisly murder. Such an improvement on Shakespeare's effort. At the court of Richard II, amateur sleuth Geoffrey Chaucer vows, "I will do my best to bring the truth of this affair to light." But this is trumped by Queen Victoria's attempt to save an eminent subject: "You do not look like a murderer of populations, Mr Brunel." Right royal twaddle.

The Ogre's Laboratory

by Louis Buss, Vintage, pounds 6.99, 393pp

THIS DARK spinechiller features the appropriately named Father Snow, a priest and historian who is posted to a Surrey backwater. Prone to hypnagogic visions, Snow finds that the local stately home is imbued by the spirit of a medieval Moloch called Everard Trevellyn, whose grisly doings he uncovers in the British Museum. Evidence of paedophile activities in the locality suggests that the ogre's baneful influence is till active across the centuries. Despite the obvious debt to Peter Ackroyd, Buss has produced a stylish, disturbing work, its terrors softened by his hero's awkward passion for a local journalist.

The Last to Know

by Candida Crewe,

Arrow, pounds 5.99, 264pp

ONE WET weekday evening, Oxford GP Kim Black pops out to the corner shop for some ice cream. He doesn't come home. His wife Sylvie is left with two pieces of curling haddock, and an empty bed. A slim-line plot, but one that Candida Crewe keeps happily bubbling away. An author with a sharp and quirky eye for domestic detail, Crewe builds up a seductively cosy picture of the Black's life in Cowley, and an intimate history of their 20-year marriage. Not a story of town and gown, this novel travels well beyond Oxford as Kim embarks on a series of unlikely journeys around Britain.

Book

by Whoopi Goldberg,

Warner, pounds 5.99, 273pp

IN 25 short chapters, actress, comedian and all-round Clinton groupie, Whoopi Goldberg sounds off on Race, Farting (her favourite topic) and presidential zippers. Like Roseanne, she wears her liberal credentials writ large, as she rails full volume against exploitative chat show hosts and the sinister activities of multinationals. Her pet peeves include men who return from restaurant rest rooms with urine speckled chinos and being referred to as an Afro-American. Yes, the world would be a happier place if we all let it rip; and yes, she is named Whoopi after the Cushion.

Dinosaur Days

by Jill Laurimore,

Penguin, pounds 5.99, 339pp

FLISS AND Ivor Harley-Wright are on their uppers, their Suffolk pile sinking into its moat. Their one hope of rescue lies in the sale of their only asset - a collection of Commemorative Drinking Vessels. All they have to do is treat an American lawyer, New York control-freak Tom Klaus, to a weekend in the country. An accomplished mid-Atlantic farce, there are some awkward moments as the Harley-Wrights roll out the red carpet, and several balls of labrador hair, inhonour of their very influential guest. A first novel by a writer who is supremely comfortable in other folks' wellies.

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