Far-flung fiction

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The Independent Culture
Brownout on Breadfruit Boulevard by Timothy Mo (Paddleless Press, pounds 5.99) Mo's self-published romp through sex and scandal in the Philippines got right up liberal nostrils with its scatology and gleefully non-PC outlook. It won't win him any UN grants, but these tall tales from post- Marcos Manila engagingly blend a satirical scorn for corrupt bosses (and western dupes) with affection for the hard-pressed pinoy in the street - or rather, the bar.

Hallucinating Foucault by Patricia Duncker (Picador, pounds 5.99) In this tense and witty thriller-of-ideas, a student sets out to find the mythical French writer Paul Michel, sleuthing south from Paris to Provence through a hot summer. Don't be deterred by Duncker's avant-garde credentials, as the quest has real pace and flair on top of its sultry mood of delirious amour fou.

After Hannibal by Barry Unsworth (Penguin, pounds 6.99) Gormless Brits in Umbria vainly try to do up their rotting piles, only to sink into a swamp of skulduggery. As a portrait of innocents abroad and a sardonic glimpse into the deep-dyed duplicity of Italian life, this leaves John Mortimer looking bland. But it won't do a thing for property values in Chiantishire.

A Heart so White by Javier Marias (Harvill, pounds 7.99) This year's IMPAC Prize winner floats dreamily between Havana and Madrid, past and present, in pursuit of the truth behind a family tragedy. You don't read Marias for the plot, but his writing has a heady, atmospheric richness that lingers like the finest perfume.

Need by Nik Cohn (Minerva, pounds 6.99) Summer in New York City, and four misfits gather at the zoo as an apocalyptic sect proclaims the Last Days in the subway. As a pop journalist, Cohn has always had a matchless ear for the loony tunes of overheated urban life (he wrote the original Saturday Night Fever). This novel delivers its Manhattan madness with doses of cooling irony.

Year of the Jaguar by James Maw (Sceptre, pounds 6.99) A footloose Englishman's foray though Mexico in search of his lost father turns up salty expat characters and - more important - some splendid evocations of the land and its people. You can't avoid the shades of Greeneland in these parts, but Maw skips the tropical cliches to keep his gringo's-eye view fresh and keen.

The Emigrants by WG Sebald (Harvill, pounds 7.99) Hovering on a cusp between fiction and memoir, this finely wrought reflection on the emigre's plight mocks the rules of genre with the fierce nostalgia of its prose. It traces the fortunes of four 20th-century German Jews as they fetch up on the strange shores of exile: Manchester, New York, Constantinople.

Oyster by Janette Turner Hospital (Virago, pounds 7.99) In the Queensland desert, a sinister leader sets up a messianic cult in a one-horse opal- mining town and draws the troubled and the gullible to him. No writer since Patrick White has caught so well the parched Australian outback and the fevers it can breed among the lost and lonely.

The Flanders Panel and The Dumas Club by Arturo Perez-Reverte (Harvill, pounds 6.99 each) Mysterious paintings, lost manuscripts, chess moves, logical conundra, chases across Europe in search of clues: imagine Calvino crossed with Conan Doyle, and you have the measure of these stylish thrillers. The Spanish maestro cooks up one fiendish puzzle after another, but never loses his light touch.

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