! Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth by Gitta Sereny, Picador pounds 9.99. A humanist masterpiece which directs a Herculean effort of understanding towards Hitler's architect, the man who brilliantly reformed German industry (with slave labour) and is one of the last living survivals of the Third Reich. Sereny's gripping opening plunges the perhaps doubtful reader in media res: "Albert Speer, whom I knew well and grew to like, might easily have been hanged the night of 16-17 October 1946 ..." What follows is a model of scholarly dedication and accessible historiography, and also a philosophical meditation on the theme of "culpable ignorance", concluding that Speer must bear some responsibility himself for the Final Solution.
! Dark Spectre by Michael Dibdin, Faber pounds 5.99. A rollicking, all-American thriller dealing with a seemingly random series of slayings across the Union and their connection with an island-based cult - one devoted to the skewed exegesis of William Blake's prophetic verse. This impressive exercise in narrative muscle-flexing shows that Dibdin can do it all: his child characters are resolutely non-emetic, and free from any hint of an inappropriate adult canniness; his plotting is unpredictable but logic-sinewed; his dialogue is acerbic and fresh; his beguiling intellectual infrastructure is carefully integrated. The whole is a compulsively readable ride, which also manages to evoke a painful, ghostly sadness at the loss of youthful illusions.
! Don't Call It Night by Amos Oz, trs Nicholas de Lange, Vintage pounds 5.99. The poignant half-desperation of the title sets the mood perfectly for an elegiac, exquisite portrait of a middle-aged love affair. Theo, a laconic 60-year-old, lives with Noa, a woman more than a decade his junior, who is setting up a drug rehabilitation centre for kids in the new, manufactured Israeli township they call home. Meanwhile the larger context of Israeli politics seeps in; Theo hears the Foreign Minister using the phrase "hoped- for peace", and muses: "The phrase hoped-for is mistaken here. Either hope or peace: you can't have both." Oz's technique is so frankly and openly crafted as to be almost invisible. One of his more telling effects is his characters' way of narrating regular events in exactly the same language: smelling the milk in the morning, hearing a recorder playing scales through the open window. This becomes a gorgeously spare means to enunciate not just the comfort, but the salvation offered by routine. Or, as Prince would say: there's joy in repetition.
! The Picador Book of Blues and Jazz ed James Campbell, Picador pounds 7.99. If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then much of this collection at least nods its head in correct rhythm. The shortish items are culled variously from music journalism or jazzers' own memoirs. In "Bendin' the Horn", bop trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie explains how he came to play through an instrument bent at an angle of 45 degrees: some drunk once knocked his horn over on stage and Dizzy loved the new, softer sound. See Miles Davis opining that "Our next record date will be silence", and Gil Evans retorting: "You and your big ideas"; hear from Scott Joplin's only white piano pupil, bashing the keys in Wild West saloons; mug up on your swing vocab (a gob-stick is a clarinet, and an ickie is "one who does not understand swing music"). Don't be an ickie all your life.
! Old Scores by Frederic Raphael, Phoenix pounds 6.99. A thematically promiscuous mess of a novel, saved by Raphael's urbane wit. It kicks off as a London sex-comedy, in which demure journo Rachael Raikes marries Roger, a dodgy- dealing estate agent. There follows a narrative lurch across La Manche, as Rachael and Roger flee to the Dordogne to escape Roger's ex-associates. Next, Rachael is commissioned by an old editor to interview Lionel Cator, the English officer who became a hero of the French Resistance. Cator is a splendid fictional creation, his locutions brilliant, spiky whirls of free-association and decades-old army slang, and in his story (of a doomed wartime romance) the novel attains a fiery depth and resonance which more than makes up for the flighty first half.
! Whit, or, Isis Amongst the Unsaved by Iain Banks, Abacus pounds 6.99. Banks is still, slightly weirdly, choosing teenagers as narrators for his "mainstream" books. Whit charts the adventures of Isis, a young woman brought up in a crazy Scottish cult called Luskentyrianism. Members abhor pop music, fashion, transport and technology, so when ingenue Isis is sent on a mission to the big smoke ("Babylondon") to find the missing Sister Morag - internationally renowned classical musician turned porn star - the stage is set for all kinds of fish-out-of-water jokes. Paul Micou satirised cults to rather more focused effect a few years ago in The Last Word, and although Banks is always readable, his talents for tasty word-mongering and sparkling ideas are these days confined to his science fiction.
"I am the last - because I am a Traveller and a pearl-fisher ... I fish the rivers all summer through. No tent these days - no family - no dough! I sleep in the car or on the ground. My life is now all memories... " Pearl-fisher's son Eddie Davies speaks out in Timothy Neat's The Summer Walkers (Canongate pounds 14.99), about the travellers of the Scottish Highlands. They are the last heirs of an ancient culture, with its own legends, crafts, argot and traditions. Above: Stewarts fishing the Ythan in the 1930sReuse content