Mackay Brown's new novel is set, appropriately enough given the Columbus celebrations, against a background of Viking dominion in the North Atlantic. The hero, Orcadian like the author, is a stowaway on Leif Ericsson's boat when it hits what it calls Vinland, and is later inspired to design a superior vessel for even more remarkable journeys. Something about the names, the material and even the dialogue suggest a style alarmingly close to any old sword- and-sorcery saga. 'Ranald Sigmundson put his farm Breckness in the keeping of Stedd, a grieve he trusted, and rode to Scapa . . . The burning of Njal had been a bitter and a cruel necessity. Now the young Icelanders hoped to make amends in battle.' But Mackay Brown is too good a writer to let this sort of thing triumph over a rocky narrative simplicity which makes the novel, eventually, gripping and wave- whipped.
MY STORY by Olga Korbut with Ellen Emerson-White, Century pounds 14.99
'When I get right down to it,' Olga Korbut confides in this account of her life as an Olympic gymnast and her subsequent emigration to America, 'I think I was more frightened by the mental threat of my coach than by the physical fear of falling'. It doesn't seem too surprising: every time the tiny 12-year-old fell of the high beam, her coach made her get right back up and do a back flip again. The thinking behind it was sound, but it doesn't sound like fun, and it bred in Korbut a toughness she was to need both on and off the asymmetric bars. When she and her coach finally split, she reports: 'I was no longer a piece of modelling clay for his experiments.' The autobiography is surprisingly candid, embracing all kinds of personal anxieties as much as the high points of her astonishing career. Korbut seems to have made more enemies than friends in her life, but the saddest part of this book is the end, when her part in gymnastic history is carefully erased from the Soviet records.
CLUBBED TO DEATH by Ruth Dudley Edwards, Gollancz pounds 13.99
The author's fourth crime novel involves the death of the secretary at a gentlemen's club called ffeatherstonehaugh's (pronounced Fanshaw's). Seems the old man fell onto a mosaic showing nymphs and shepherds in a Bacchanalian frenzy. It doesn't seem that surprising: the club is peopled by chaps who have been getting away with murder for years, but this time a detective enters the club as a waiter, and starts snooping. It is always a pleasure to read dark deeds recounted in a manner designed to amuse rather then terrify us, and Ruth Dudley Edwards has a snappy touch which has found a perfect subject here: there is more to the old codgers in ffeatherstonehaugh's than meets the eye, and just the right amount to keep the plot fizzing.