BOOKS : PAPERBACKS

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The Independent Culture
The Alienist by Caleb Carr, Warner £7.99. Carr has set a Jack the Ripper story in 1890s New York and - with alienist (ie psychiatrist) Lazlo Kreizler - given America a contemporary for Sherlock Holmes. With his Dr Watson, journalist John Moore, th is supersleuth anticipates the "science" of psychological profiling in order to track down the serial killer of child prostitutes. The historical detailing is lovingly done, making the whole ambience - in spite of stock characterisation - rather convinci ng. Theodore Roosevelt (Commissioner of New York police and on his way up to the Presidency) presides over the case. Roosevelt was a key player in the drive to reform the city's endemically corrupt and unreliable law enforcement, and this lends credence to his hiring of a rank amateur for such a job.

8 Road Fever by Tim Cahill, 4th Estate £6.99. "What's the old record?" "Months." "Can you beat it?" "Yeah. But there's a guy about to give it a try pretty soon. Some European prince. He's taking six Land Rovers." "Kick his ass." We're in Phineas Fogg-land here. There is no flimsy gauze of scientific respect-ability to cover Cahill's adventures. When he and "adventure driver'' Garry Sowerby have a go at the Tierra del Fuego-to-Alaska overland mark, it is only for glory. Cahill writes with a mild sense ofirony and fun that doesn't quite mask his bedrock motivation, which is fairly straightforward machismo. He is happy to fill us in, however, on negotiations with sponsors, public relations people, the Guinness Book of Records and other essential but unromantic aspects of modern derring-do.

8 The Trustees by Caro Fraser, Phoenix £5.99. When feted artist Alexander Laing dies, he leaves his children a rich trust fund, his ex-wife "practically destitute'' and the family's ultra-conventional lawyer in a position of unusual power. This novel hovers somewhere between the male and female Trollopes. Although set in present-day London, it is occupied with a favourite Victorian theme, the consequences of a rich man's will, and has a distinctly old-hat stateliness and restraint about its language. Onthe other hand, the cover-design's watercolour wash tells you (accurately) that this is a novel about sex and hedonism today, comfortably prepackaged for TV exploitation. A good read of its type.

8 The Slicing Edge of Death by Judith Cook, Pocket Books £4.99. Almost three years ago Charles Nicholl's complex account of Christopher Marlowe's death in a pub in Deptford turned back a grubby corner of the arras to reveal a murky world of sodomy, espionage, atheism and Elizabethan plotting. Last year came Anthony Burgess's fine last novel A Dead Man In Deptford. Cook's novel is a lighter read than either of these: its brisk, contemporary cadences are miles from Burgess's exuberant but learned pastiche, and it departs from Nicholl's dark ambiguities by clearly fingering Robert Cecil, Secretary to the Queen's Council, as the contractor of an expedient killing.

8 A J P Taylor: A Biography by Adam Sisman, Mandarin £7.99. Once, in Switzerland, Taylor had his hand shaken by a taxi driver who had been a bodyguard of Hitler's. The Origins of the Second World War had, the man said, completely exonerated his old boss.Thanks, mate. Taylor's book had not done that, but it was a mistake many made. He was a historian who generated a great deal of academic venom, popular enthusiasm and many misconceptions, for he loved provocation and didn't mind if he appeared inconsistent. Sisman admirably shows Taylor's characteristics: style (spare and populist) often preceding content, but the content itself - radical, fluent, incisive, capable of thrilling an audience - made him a hero to those whom he, in turn, considered the heroes of his own work: the British people. Sisman's main concern is the man's life and character, emotionally tangled and not very likeable, but extremely singular.

8 Test Eleven: Great Ashes Battles by Bernard Whimpress & Nigel Hart, Deutsch £8.99. This is a desperately needed book. It provides a narrative of 11 cricket matches between us and Oz: five close victories for each side and one scintillating draw, chosenfrom the years 1877 to 1993. And most of these show either England or Australia triumphing away from home. It's not vintage cricket writing, not Cardus or C L R James. But just to be reminded that the Ashes are a great sporting contest is like a butt ofwater to a bedouin.

8 The Search by Geoff Dyer, Penguin £5.99. Graham Greene often scripted films but, disliking the "dull shorthand of conventional treatments", he'd prepare by writing a story, not for publication but to give himself more material than a film can use. Is Geoff Dyer practising to write a CD-Rom game? There's more detail, certainly, then in Myst or Wolfenstein. But this "story" about one man tracking another through a series of towns ("levels" in cybergame usage) is a few significances short of a fable and comes nowhere near a novella. The characters and places are digital and empty and, as in computer games, the only reason to go on is to clock the levels.

8 Pre-Christian Ireland: From the First Settlers to the Early Celts by Peter Harbison, Thames & Hudson £8.95. There are ambiguous traces of human life in Ireland from the eighth millennium BC, but no hard evidence of human society before around 7000, thedate of the settlement at Mount Sandel in Co Derry, the oldest mesolithic site in Britain or Ireland. From bones dug up we know the people ate duck, pigeon, grouse, salmon, sea-bass, eel and flounder; from the flints we know how they killed them. This is a well-illustrated summary of that part of Irish history which saw the astounding megalithic passage-tombs, ``first great achievements of monumental architecture in Europe'' - Irish versions of the pyramids, in fact.

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