Higson's antihero murders the man who comes to buy his Saab just because "the twerp's accent had put my back up". Corpse disposal becomes an irritating diversion from his interview later that day with the Observer's "A Room Of My Own" team. But the whole of London is conspiring against him - a pair of persistent beggars, tourists with backpacks, dogs and their owners - even his parents pitch up to pile on the aggravation. The accelerated pace of the action never lets up as Higson's self-styled "big cheese in the design world" rids himself of friends, family (he locks mum and dad in the boot of his car) and, bizarrely, his nose, and hurtles towards his own well-deserved destruction. Fast and funny (as you'd expect), and devastatingly cruel.
The Silver Castle by Clive James, Picador pounds 5.99. Clive James's fourth novel is a brilliantly researched celebration of the Indian film world that wears its learning lightly and reveals the great compassion and intelligence that is often obscured by James's overworked flippancy. His shrewd eye takes in the complexities of Bombay, its filthy streets, the children who live on them, the sex-tourists who prey on them, without ever passing judgement. Sanjay, a pavement child and rent-boy, is obsessed with the stars of India's screens. Through hard work and chutzpah, he makes it as an extra, then gets a walk-on part and a line: "Bow when you address the princess, son of a dog." From then on, he's no longer "just a ball of dust who wandered into a castle", but achieves his childhood dream of Bollywood fame. There are no happy endings off-screen, though. Through Sanjay, James communicates the pathos of shattered ambitions in this acutely observed tragi-comic tale.
Hunted Down: The Detective Stories of Charles Dickens, ed Peter Haining, Peter Owen pounds 9.95. London's first detective force was formed just in time for Charles Dickens to incorporate their work into his fiction. Inspired by their exploits, he accompanied undercover officers on their nightly patrols, and spent his days at magistrates' courts, murder trials and public executions. The early model of Dickens' famous sleuths (Mr Nadgett in Martin Chuzzlewit and Inspector Bucket in Bleak House) can be found in stories based on his experiences written for the monthly magazine, Household Words. Peter Haining has collected these previously out-of-print stories into a fascinating anthology of an early example of crime fiction. Here are the "swell-mobsmen," "gonophs" and "garrateers", not to mention "Tally-ho Thompson", who would later steal their way through his novels. An eyewitness account of the Victorian underworld and the men who policed it, these sketches are more reportage than fiction. His tone is brisk as he focuses on the business of sleuthing, and details are unembellished. But there is still room for an affecting death scene and larger-than-life Cockney wide boys.
The Monarchy and the Constitution by Vernon Bogdanor, OUP pounds 14.99. "In 1956, four years after the Queen's accession, an opinion poll showed that 35 per cent of the population believed that the sovereign had been chosen by God." Bogdanor shows that, 40 years later, the forces of competitive individualism and the concomitant decline in deferential attitudes, have broken the spell of the "magical monarchy". In these more utilitarian times, institutions have to prove they are worthy of respect. This is what Bogdanor sets out to do. His defence of the monarch's crucial role in a democracy is persuasive. Of all the European states, he argues, those that have retained their monarchs are the most stable because there have been no ideological battles. Without the Kaiser, Germany turned to Hitler, and, for over 2,000 years, France, he claims, has found it difficult to form a stable government. But his case for public funding is less convincing, especially when he concedes that increases in the civil list do not take into account the growth of the sovereign's personal wealth. Bogdanor is a fervent royalist, and it shows, but partisanship makes this authoritative guide to the location of power in the state a lively and provocative read.
Reading Jazz: Autobiography, Reportage and Criticism from 1919 to now, ed Robert Gottlieb, Bloomsbury pounds 20 (paperback original). This monumental collection of jazz writings is the most comprehensive ever published. Gottlieb brings together Miles Davis harking back to his classic, mid- 1950s quin- tet - "Man, that was too hip and bad. Everybody was laying all kinds of slick shit on everyone" - and Philip Larkin pronouncing on Bebop: "not the music of happy men." Meanwhile, Jelly Roll Morton, Eric Hobsbawm and Jean-Paul Sartre attempt to define the essence of jazz. The assembled voices offer an astonishing variety of tone, idiom and feeling. A riveting oral history, this is indispensable to anyone who loves jazz.
Banners were 'an identity tag, a rallying cry and a gesture of defiance' for all miners. Their story was woven into their banners over the years; the illustrations, themes and mottoes changing to reflect contemporary conditions and challenges. They reflect the hope, fortitude and high spirits of the mining communities and only rarely do they display a negative message.
In the mid-nineteenth century banners were made by the local communities, but by the end of the century George Tutill's London-based banner-making business had a virtual monopoly. Formerly a travelling showman, his advocacy of a fairground art style had a far-reaching influence on banner design. Follow The Banner: An illustrated catalogue of the Northumberland Miners' Banners by Hazel Edwards (Carcanet pounds 5.95)Reuse content