Heroes and a few villains

summer paperbacks
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The Independent Culture
The Queen by Ben Pimlott (HarperCollins, pounds 9.99) The ex-Chairman of the Fabian Society gives our hereditary ruler a gentle ride. She emerges as dedicated and down-to-earth, scolding her spendthrift mother: "Oh do grow up!" Pimlott takes much the same line as his previous subject, Harold Wilson, who was "delighted by the Queen". One is grateful for the acerbic prescience of Jan Morris who, on the eve of the Waleses' wedding, wrote to The Times recording her "revulsion and foreboding".

Bob Marley by Cedella Booker with Anthony Winkler (Penguin, pounds 7.99) The reggae star's mother tells the story of her son. She describes his scapegrace father as "a kind and generous soul", though he gave his son only "two copper pennies". There's little about Bob's music, but Mother Booker claims he cured her glaucoma with ganga. The singer blamed his fatal cancer on the unfaithfulness of one of his partners. The story is permeated with tragedy - Bob's half-brother was shot at 19 - but the Jamaican patois is a joy.

Bertrand Russell by Ray Monk (Vintage, pounds 9.99) Covering Russell's first half-century, this massive chronicle reveals how the philosopher's charm and brilliance ("Great God in boots, the ontological argument is sound") could give way to inexplicable emotional savagery. In a compelling narrative, Monk deftly braids the main strands of his subject's life: the sexual adventurer, the public figure of unshakeable principle and profound thinker.

Mr Nice by Howard Marks (Minerva, pounds 5.99) "Oxford is no business school," declares the Balliol-educated drug runner, and you can't help but agree. The pages of his memoir oscillate between caviar breakfasts and the clicking of handcuffs. It makes for a racy yarn with plenty of globetrotting colour, though his roguish charm wears thin.

Augustus John by Michael Holroyd (Vintage, pounds 9.99) The biographer acknowledges that John's reputation has now "fallen off the map". His inability to capitalise on a prodigious talent endows this absorbing work with a tragic power. Concentrating on John's early years before he became a parody of the priapic artist, Holroyd offers entertaining cameos of his circle, such as the poet Arthur Symons, who believed he was Pope.

Cary Grant: A Class Apart by Graham McCann (Fourth Estate, pounds 7.99) "Everybody wants to be Cary Grant," the star remarked. "Even I want to be Cary Grant." Like its subject, this perceptive biography is a class act. McCann gives us all the strange detail about how Bristol-born Archie Leach, son of an alcoholic tailor and a clinically depressed mother, became "the man from dream city". While allegations of bisexuality are dismissed, we learn that Grant tripped on LSD in the Fifties. The book soars when McCann analyses Grant's immaculate screen persona.

With Nails by Richard E Grant (Picador, pounds 6.99) A mixture of luvvie froth and droll perceptions makes up the movie diaries of the Withnail star. His apercus on the absurdities of the biz are gentle enough - he wants to keep working. In the throes of emotion, Grant's prose comes unstuck: "The love felt is almost unbearable in its overwhelm."

His Holiness by Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi (Bantam, pounds 7.99) The authors are admirably objective about this daunting figure, but where they really score is in uncovering new material. Reagan's adviser described the President's relationship with the Vatican as "one of the greatest secret alliances of all time". Reagan blocked aid to family planning programmes, while the Pope gave tacit support on Cruise missiles. Together they propelled the fall of Communism.

My Dark Places by James Ellroy (Arrow, pounds 6.99) Tough, terse, revelatory, this is memoir as film noir. Ellroy's mother was murdered, aged 42, in 1958. His father died and Ellroy took to drink, drugs and crime before discovering a talent for hard-boiled crime writing. Driven by obsession, he pursues the seamy events of 40 years ago. No killer emerges but Ellroy is relentless: "I will never stop looking." Despite diversions, there's scarcely a stray syllable. There can never have been a book like it.