Paperbacks

Eden Renewed by Peter Levi (Papermac, pounds 12.00) Though much-quoted, John Milton remains a daunting Titan of literature. This admirably succinct biography makes Milton's work, including his Latin verse, accessible to the modern reader. The turbulent political milieu in which Milton became so deeply enmeshed is deftly conveyed. Levi delights in the disparities of the 17th century. The soaring cadences of Paradise Lost are set alongside a contemporary view of Milton as "a dead dog, a canker worm, a petty schoolboy scribbler."

The Hilt by Dick Francis (Michael Joseph, pounds 9.99) Alexander Kinloch, artist and self-styled weirdo, lives in a small bothy on a remote Scottish fellside. Unaccountably beaten up one day by a group of thuggish hill walkers, "Mad A" is plunged into a horsey mystery - one involving his uncle (the Earl of Kinloch), his stepfather (Ivan George Westerling, pillar of the Jockey Club) and the missing King Alfred Gold Cup. An old-fashioned yarn of mistaken identities and overnight sleepers. John Buchan meets the Racing Gazette.

Savages by Joe Kane (Pan, pounds 6.99) After all but drowning in his previous work, Running the Amazon, here Kane almost starves to death in the Ecuadorian jungle. Still, he fares better than a visiting bishop who was found skewered "by 17 palmwood spears, each 10 feet long". The indigenous Huaorani people turn out to be tough and resilient (if infuriating), but their survival is threatened by predatory oil companies. In this absorbing account, hilarious and heartbreaking by turns, there's no doubt who Kane regards as the real savages.

Infinity and the Mind by Rudy Rucker (Penguin, pounds 5.99) While many of the concepts tackled here are tantalising - such as the infinitely large "Hilbert's Hotel", which can be filled by a number known as "alef-one" - the non-mathematician will rapidly throw in the towel. Rucker tries to be the human face of mathematics, using cartoons and references to Chuck Berry to make his point, but the symbols win in the end.

Trampled Lilies by Lady Fortesque (Back Swan, pounds 6.99) The fragrant author (1888-1951), who enjoyed posthumous success with Perfume from Provence proved no shrinking violet when the tide of war swept through her adopted homeland. Despite doubts ("the rot of Communism had tainted the army of the South"), she briskly organised billets until forced to flee. After a thrilling drive to Brittany, Lady F plus beloved spaniel caught the last boat home. Back in England, a chance overhearing raised her spirits: "I can't get that Lady Fortesque off me 'eart. 'Ow, I do 'ope she's orlright." With four titles now in print, the answer is yes.

Onitsha by J M G Le Clezio (Bison Books, pounds 13.99) Separated by the outbreak of war in Europe, Fintan has never met his English father. When finally he and his Italian mother receive word to join him in Nigeria, they've almost made themselves sick with imaginings of their future home. But nothing can prepare them for Onitsha - a place of red ravines, silky rivers and hot winds. Every bit as readable as Joyce Carey and William Boyd when it comes to colonial types, Le Clezio also manages to pull off the mystery of Africa without getting too French about it. This beautifully written book gets as close to the heart of darkness as poetically possible.

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