Book Reviews

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The Independent Culture
The Primitive by Stephen Amidon (Indigo, pounds 5.99) Speeding through the rain on a remote stretch of freeway in the Deep South, David Webster collides with a vintage green Mustang. Its driver - a supernaturaly pale woman, with dark-red hair - gazes up at him with glassy eyes. So kicks off Stephen Amidon's creepy new thriller which follows David's subsequent involvement with the young driver, and his descent from disillusioned yuppie to unhinged lunatic. Amidon's plot ploughs steadily on, winding up the reader with a practised ease. Will have you checking under the bed before turning out the light.

A Thousand Orange Trees by Kathryn Harrison (Fourth Estate, pounds 6.99) A memorable historical novel of baroque intrigues during the Spanish Inquisition that compares the fate of two very different young women: Francisca de Lucara, the daughter of an impoverished Castilian silk-grower, and Marie Louise Bourbon, wife of the dribbling, teat-sucking King Carlos II. A less demanding read than, say, Hilary Mantel on 18th-century France, but laced with wonderfully researched detail - from the dreary eating habits of the Spanish court to the life cycle of themulberry bush.

Wishbone by Marion Milligan (Mandarin, pounds 5.99) An Australian novel that isn't about outback ranch-hands or turn-of-the-century eccentrics, but nineties women who lunch. Emmanuelle and her best friend Susie live in one of Sydney's leafier suburbs, and spend their days monitoring their Maori nannies and browsing the local antique showroom. Both are happy enough coasting along in an unfulfilled haze of creamy cocktails and macchiato coffees, until their marital situations take a dramatic turn for the interesting. Enjoyable enough although you're left with the feeling that the writer has more to offer than she's letting on.

Kicking the Pricks by Derek Jarman (Vintage, pounds 8.99) As he completed work on the final edit of his film The Last of England, in 1986 and 1987, Derek Jarman started work on another personal history. Scribbled down in spare moments on bundles of A4 paper in red Pentel pen, Jarman's childhood reminiscences, opinions and thoughts on the contemporary art world make for an absorbing and surprisingly optimistic read. It's accompanied by striking photographs of the artist's progress from motivated teenager, to tortured art student, to dedicated home-movie maker - last seen filming the fading scent of a favourite blue-bell wood.

Songdogs by Colum McCann (Phoenix, 5.99) ''If you want to be happy for an hour, get drunk; if you want to be happy for a day, kill a pig; if you want to be happy for a week, get married; if you want to be happy for a lifetime, go fishing.'' Bearing this old Mexican adage in mind, Michael Lyons, a wandering Irish photographer fresh from the Spanish Civil War and a South American adventure, takes a Mexican wife and goes home to catch salmon. Forty years on a young man is left to ponder his father's exotic past and his own unusual ancestry. A first novel with an interesting premise, though either the father or son's story would have been treasure enough.