Books: Paperbacks

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The Gunpowder Plot by Antonia Fraser (Weidenfeld, pounds 12.99) The atrocity planned for 6 November 1605 remains the most famous terrorist episode in British history. This compelling account explores both the religious persecution which prompted these "brave, misguided" Catholics and the complex detail of their doomed plan. Not only were they betrayed from the outset, but their gunpowder was so decayed that it would never have exploded anyway. Narrative history at its best, this dark tale becomes painful as the prisoner "John Johnson" is tortured into revealing himself as Guido Fawkes.

Resident Alien by Quentin Crisp (Flamingo, pounds 7.99) The diaries of Britain's great export to the Big Apple are studded with one-liners: "Los Angeles is New York lying down"; "I have always held the opinion that it would be less depressing to be alcoholic than to be anonymous". Astute and gutsy, Crisp possesses phenomenal energy for his age, but, unfortunately for his readers, travels in order to be seen rather than to see. His quaint, mannered style becomes a trifle wearing, particularly his affectation of giving everyone titles, as in "Mr Milton" (John), "Mr Claus" (Santa) and "Mr Hur" (Ben).

In Search of Dracula by Raymond McNally & Radu Florescu (Robson, pounds 9.99) This rum but scholarly study is the latest in a long line of flesh-creepers (the first appeared in 1499) devoted to the grisly doings of old toothy. Despite Ceausescu's attempt to rehabilitate Dracula, he emerges as a disagreeable fellow whose speciality was not putting the bite on people but doing nasty things with a sharp pole. His addiction to impalement continued even when imprisoned, substituting mice for humans. The authors, who discovered Castle Dracula in 1969, bring the story up to date with a 40-page filmography.

The Evil That Men Do by Brian Masters (Black Swan, pounds 7.99) This kaleidoscopic view of good and evil is sub-titled "From Saints to Serial Killers", but the latter (not always serial in nature) outweigh the former in a proportion of about 12:1. Perhaps goodness is by its very nature hard to write about - Masters is reduced to showbiz "saints" like Audrey Hepburn and Bob Geldof. His cool analysis of evil is inevitably jarred by the horrific examples, from Jeffrey Dahmer to Dachau. Goodness, he concludes, depends on "constant alertness". An intelligent, readable but depressing book.

Perfectly Correct by Philippa Gregory (HarperCollins, pounds 5.99) Successful academic, Dr Louise Chase, has a neat country cottage, a neat bob and a commitment-free relationship with her best friend's husband. A tidy life, except for her inexplicable passion for a local farmer with periwinkle- blue eyes and no interest in gender studies. Gregory has tried her hand at contemporary satire before, and this gently romantic, naughty read shows her story-telling skills travel well. For women who invest in silk pyjamas, but know deep down they shouldn't bother.

Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z Brite (Phoenix, pounds 5.99) Eating people is wrong, but young American "punk- slash" writer, Poppy Z Brite, almost makes it OK. When English serial killer Andrew Compton arrives in New Orleans, the last thing he expects is to fall in love, especially with a fellow psycho-killer. But having something in common always helps, and soon he and Jay are cruising the French Quarter and dining in on a foul-smelling jambalaya. Even if this spooky Anne Rice/Clive Barkerish tale isn't your usual cup of tea, Brite's book is sickeningly compelling.

Photocopies by John Berger (Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99) This collection of essays describing "moments" spent with late twentieth-century Europeans by one time Booker Prize winner, John Berger, reads like an Inter- Railer's wet dream. His "Euro-encounters" include standing under a plum tree with a beautiful young fresco-restorer from Galicia; chewing the cud with assorted peasants; and talking Paul Klee with just about anyone who will listen. At times Berger's writing is so affected it's hard not to laugh - though when it comes to describing the blue of the Aegean, or the yellow of a French post van, he's a hard man to resist.

The Professor's House by Willa Cather (Virago, pounds 6.99) Cather's masterpiece tells the story of a retiring academic who has fallen out of love with life, exhausted by his riven family and depressed by the materialism of 1920s America. And it has inset in it - like a glowing jewel - an account of his dearest student's numinous experience in a New Mexico pueblo. Virago have also re-issued the First World War novel One of Ours and the lyrical My Antonia (pounds 6.99) to mark the 50th anniversary of Cather's death, with Hermione Lee's model biography A Life Saved Up (pounds 8.99).

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