Books: Review - Paperbacks

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Stalingrad

by Antony Beevor,

Penguin, pounds 12.99

494pp

RAPTUROUSLY RECEIVED last year, this war classic is permeated by the blast of Russian winter. Though Hitler's eastern offensive started well with the capture of 5.7 million Red Army soldiers (over half died in captivity), it was mortally ruptured at the battle of . Shakespearean in scope, Antony Beevor's narrative switches between the Nazi and Soviet high commands - a match in callous brutality - and the inconceivable suffering of soldiers and civilians. Even before , a German general knew the score: "The vastness of Russia devours us."

Art at the Turn of the Millennium

edited by B Reimschneider and

U Grosenick

Taschen, pounds 19.99, 576pp

360pp

IF ANYTHING emerges from this bumper bundle of 137 artists from the Saatchi/Sensation! generation, it is a reluctance to handle oil and canvas. Billiard tables, pharmaceuticals and mangled cars are recurring motifs. Epic repetition, variously tricycles, Budweiser cans and clay figures, is much in vogue. The mood varies from intimidatory, like Henrik Plenge Jakobsen's Diary of Plasma, to the whimsical - Wim Devoye's messages across mountainsides: "Mum, keys are you know where." A monumental, if perplexing, tour d'horizon.

The Man Who Loved Only Numbers

by Paul Hoffman,

Fourth Estate, pounds 7.99, 302pp

360pp

THE TITLE is not quite true. Paul Erdos adored his mother, but his life was mathematics. Surviving on little other than Benzedrine and espresso, this gnome-like Hungarian was unswervingly celibate and kept his possessions in a suitcase. He also wrote 1,475 academic papers, "all of them substantial", including 50 when in his seventies, so there's hope for late starters. Paul Hoffman intersperses his yarn with diversions on other maths nuts, including our old friends Fibonacci and Fermat. Hugely engaging - but those that are numerate will get the most out of it.

Into India

by John Keay,

Murray, pounds 10.99

203pp

YOU CAN see why Mark Tully recommends this book as the introduction to India. John Keay takes the same non-judgmental line over India's caste system and even its endemic poverty. Similarly, he muses that the funeral pyres of Benares are "not a bad way to go. Better than the worms." Keay notes that in the 30 years since this splendidly readable panorama was first published, India has become much more visitor-friendly, though the country has lost its charming curiosity. Back then, he was once addressed "Am I right, sir, in thinking you are in cost accounting?"

Three Men on a Plane

by Mavis Cheek,

Faber, pounds 6.99

263pp

MORE LITERARY than Deborah Moggach, funnier than Joanna Trollope, Mavis Cheek writes social comedies of Chiswick fortysomethings and Chelsea- based batchelors. Pamela Pryor is a divorced interior designer whose only son has just left home. With time on her hands, her thoughts turn to hot baths, icy gins and ex-lovers: Peter (a minimalist architect), Douglas (a design guru) and Dean (a serious younger man). In her best novel to date, the well-named Ms Cheek draws an engagingly waspish portrait of contemporary London and its more menopausal miscreants.

Summer Things

by Joseph Connolly,

Faber, pounds 6.99

371pp

AWASH WITH saucy postcard humour, Joseph Connolly's comic novel of the English seaside may be a little bracing for some tastes. Elizabeth has booked in to a five-star seafront hotel. Her neighbour Dotty had plans to do the same, until husband Brian decided to spend his summer hols in a caravan instead. Son Colin doesn't mind where he sleeps, as long as it's with something warm. A novel that doesn't allow the reader to get bored, the lobby doors (and everyone's appendages) are set to auto-revolve. Tom Sharpe and Carry On devotees need look no further.

Honey Dew

by Louise Doughty,

Scribner, pounds 6.99

178pp

LOUISE DOUGHTY exchanges her urban novel credentials for murder mystery set in rural Rutland. The village of Nether Bowston is a not so closely-knit community of "balding" semis and tied cottages. When a middle- aged couple are found stabbed to death in their sun-lit kitchen, suspicion falls on their heavily eyebrowed teenage daughter. Unravelling the clues are local newshound, Alison Akenside, and resident crime writer, the redoubtable Miss Crabbe. An atmospheric and playful whodunnit in which Doughty turns the genre's more treasured conventions inside out.

Other Names

by Zoe Fairbairns,

Penguin, pounds 5.99

409pp

TWO VERY different women fall under the spell of public schoolboy turned Lloyds insurance broker Boniface Bennett: Heather, a 19-year-old with no job and a dodgy bedsit in Crystal Palace, and Marjorie, a Home Counties matron with cash to spare. Both place their futures and, in Marjorie's case, her Firm Control girdle, in Boniface's professional hands. A well- plotted and absorbing read, Zoe Fairbairns's latest novel is the upmarket version of an airport blockbuster, with the added advantage of allowing an enjoyable edge of eccentricity to creep on to its pages.

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