Paperbacks

Reviewed by Emma Hagestadt and Christopher Hirst

Rengades: Hitler's Englishmen by Adrian Weale (Warner, pounds 6.99)

The author admits there is an "air of unreality" about the oddball group of turncoats he spent a decade researching. They were either right-wing fantasists, such as William Joyce (the absurd Lord Haw-Haw) or opportunist ne'er-do-wells, like many in the 27-strong British Free Corps, an incredibly slapdash wing of the SS. An absorbing account of a less than creditable aspect of British history.

Black Holes and Time Warps by Kip S. Thorne (Papermac, pounds 10)

Despite a populist introduction ("imagine yourself the captain of a great spacecraft exploring black holes in interstellar space..."), this is rather a demanding exposition. A leading scholar offers a detailed account of the Einsteinian revolution and its aftermath which flows in and out of the non-specialist reader's comprehension. Its great achievement is to make so much understandable without using maths.

Iain Macleod: A Biogrophy by Robert Shepherd (Pimlico, pounds 14)

An exemplary life of one of the great might-have-beens of British politics. Macleod died in 1970, aged 56, after being Chancellor for one month. As founding father of the Tory "One Nation" group, he was Thatcher's polar opposite. An unexpectedly racy figure, he deftly supervised African decolonisation. Oddly, Shepherd doesn't mention that Macleod left only a few hundred pounds in his will.

The Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Philip Sugden (Robinson, pounds 7.99)

At 500 pages, this is a bible for Ripperologists. Even if you have scant interest in the murder and mutilation of between four and nine East End prostitutes in the years 1889 to 1892, the astonishing accumulation of detail is irresistible. A Polish-born publican calling himself George Chapman, who was hanged for multiple poisonings in 1903, seems the most likely suspect, but Sugden is far from certain.

Something In Linoleum by Paul Vaughan (Sinclair-Stevenson, pounds 9.99)

The suburban childhood of the Radio 4 arts doyen is evoked through sparkling vignettes, packed with evocative period detail ranging from Rupert Bear to Zubes. The inspiring figure of his headmaster, John Garrett, a one- time collaborator with Auden, dominates the second half. Giving free rein to his awesome memory, Vaughan has produced a work which ranks alongside VS Pritchett's acclaimed memoirs.

I Nearly Died by Charles Spencer (Gollancz, pounds 5.99)

Showbiz hack Will Benson falls foul of mucky comic, vemonous ex-lover and loopy actress. Death threats are succeeded by a nasty encounter in a stretch limo. The yarn maintains an enjoyable momentum, though a teasing love interest is spoiled when the author indulges in a spot of wish-fulfilment at the climax. Readers may speculate how much it's based on Spencer's real life experiences as Daily Telegraph theatre critic.

Women in England 1500 to 1760: A Social History by Anne Laurence, (Weidenfield, pounds 12.99)

Forget the Reformation, the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution - events thought epoch-making for men didn't necessarily do women any good. Taking swipes at the establishment, Laurence's ambitious social history argues that the rise of individualism (male individualism, that is) kept communally-minded women sidelined by the hearth. Even the statistics are fascinating.

The Marriage of Time and Convenience by Robert Winder (Flamingo, pounds 5.99)

There are only three hours until Luke's plane takes off, the same amount of time the author promises it will take to read this book. And indeed for the next three hours we coast with Luke through a life of swiftly- moving indecision - full-fat or skimmed, diet or regular - until he knows he can't avoid the big decision any longer: marriage. Winder wittily turns life's minutiae into a funny, fast dash of a novel.

Troubled Waters by Pat Sweet (Virago, pounds 6.99)

Cat O'Connell, ex-lawyer turned private investigator, likes her malt whisky and her spartan office overlooking the streets of Glasgow. But when her ex-lover is fished out of the North Sea, it looks as though her contact with a sinister American company is going to be more dangerous than she bargained for. Sweet pulls off the hard task of creating a believable British female detective with the hard-boiled edge of Sara Paretksy.

Betty Grable: The Girl With the Million Dollar Legs by Tom McGee (Vestal, pounds 14.99)

When told by one of her directors that she was a great comic actress, Betty Grable replied: "I know, honey - but I'd hate to do it without my legs." For all her talent (she sang and danced as well as playing sax, ukelele and drums), the "Solid Gold Blonde" didn't start making millions overnight. Originally escorted to Hollywood by her stage-struck Mom, she endured years of upsets and bad marriages.

Bedside Manners by John Ballantyne (Virgin, pounds 9.99)

Jeffrey Bernard is not only unwell, but even sicker than usual in the pages of this anthology of medical wit and wisdom. Appearing more times than any other writer (though sadly absent from the chapter entitled "Wind"), you would think Bernard had a monopoly on the subject. An idiosyncratic collection, given the richness of the subject - especially considering the sparsity of its contributions by and about women.

Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding, (Picador, pounds 5.99)

This first novel contrasts the glitzy world of the Groucho Club with life in an African refugee camp. When Rosie quits her publicity job and tries to enlist her "celeb" friends in support of the starving, she discovers a new world where unshaved legs go unnoticed, and there's more to life than making her awful TV presenter boyfriend come. A must for anyone whose sexual confidence has been reduced to the size of "a little wizened pea."

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