BOOKS / Paperbacks

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The Tax Inspector by Peter Carey, Faber pounds 5.99. Carey's follow-up to Oscar and Lucinda is the story of the Catchprices, who run a tacky garage in Sydney, and what happens when a heavily pregnant tax inspector arrives to examine the non-existent books. More concerned to fix themselves than the beat-up autos in the forecourt - one brother is an aspiring music star, another a Hare Krishna convert and young Benny wants to become an angel - the boys are the sad products of hideous childhood abuse. The book's climax, a grim rape, caused raised eyebrows, but there is no doubting Carey's power and seriousness.

History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani, Faber pounds 9.99. The story of an enduring world in which, according to Hourani, a family from southern Arabia could move to Spain, and after six centuries return to its place of origin and still be in familiar surroundings. The author's strong feel for the abiding features of Arab secular life and philosophy also illuminates such difficult areas as Islam and the role of women. Readable, responsible history outside the jargon-ridden academic Orientalist tradition.

John Keats by Walter Jackson Bate, Hogarth Press pounds 12.99. Pulitzer Prize-winning critical biography, first published in 1963 and out of print for many years. The details of Keats's arduous and tragic life are known from his daily letters to family and friends, and in fact Bate planned the biography as a companion to the published letters. But the work also stands alone and illuminates the development of the poetry.

The Hanging Tree by Allan Massie, Mandarin pounds 5.99. Rip- roaring 15th-century Borders yarn from one of Scotland's best (and usually more restrained) literary novelists. It is mainly the story of monstrous Maurie Laidlaw, who starts as a cattle raider and rises to stand beside Warwick the Kingmaker as a key figure in Anglo- Scottish history. A serpentine plot, gothic violence, strange erotica and wonderful language make atmospheric entertainment.

Madonna Unauthorised by Christopher Andersen, Signet pounds 4.99. A brisk and well-written portrait of the only female rock star who behaves just like a male rock star. It's a book that - cleverly - earned the open disapproval of its subject; of all the revelations here, Madonna probably minded much more about the exposure of her business affairs than of her sex life. The carefully planned scandals and shameless re-invention of her own image are only part of the fascination.

Los Gusanos by John Sayles, Penguin pounds 5.99. There is a high- octane mix of sex, nostalgia, politics and mystery in this picture of Cuban exiles in Miami, struggling with the battered remains of the American Dream and inventing many new dreams of their own. It has an energy and seriousness that help it to avoid cliche.