Paperbacks

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The Creature in the Map by Charles Nicholl (Vintage, pounds 7.99) Having written thrillingly about South America (The Fruit Palace on Bogota drug gangs) and 16th century mysteries (The Reckoning on Marlowe's murder), Charles Nicholl combines these twin obsessions in a startling history- cum-travel book inspired by Raleigh's search for El Dorado. This legendary city, named after a golden man, was imaginatively mapped by Sir Walter on the fringe of a strangely zoomorphic lake (hence the title). His quest ended in disaster, but Nicholl hears of an aviator who saw ''a river of gold'' at the same spot. An enthralling, darkly magical read.

The Picador Book of Blues and Jazz, ed James Campbell (pounds 7.99) A patchy cull, devoted mainly to exploring the psychopathology of the jazzer. We can, for example, compare Mezz Mezzrow's paean to dope with Art Pepper's ambivalent view of heroin. Humour crops up intermittently, as in Ellington's stately sacking of Mingus for misbehaviour and the terminally cirrhotic Charlie Parker's ironic remark that ''I have a sherry before dinner''. But there's too much padding. Why choose Larkin's embarrassing poem (''Oh, play that thing!'') about Bechet and Geoff Dyer's dreary ruminations on Coltrane but nothing from Miles Davis's explicit autobiography?

Crusades by Terry Jones and Alan Ereira (Penguin /BBC, pounds 6.99) A breathless gallop through 200 years of intermittent warfare between two sides who both appealed - in their different languages - to the same God. The tangle of creaky alliances, treachery and ineptitude is unravelled into an engaging narrative by the two authors, though their penchant for demotic doesn't always come off. It is hard to imagine that Behemond of Normandy actually told his nephew Tancred to ''kick ass''. This edition is sadly bereft of the fine illustrations of the hardback (still in print at pounds 16.99).

The Next 500 Years by Adrian Berry (Headline, pounds 7.99) Though this discursive voyage into the future takes a little time to pick up pace, Berry proves to be a highly stimulating guide. Each page contains so much of interest that his book might become a vade mecum for the dinner party bore. We learn, for example, that human wealth is due to triple in the next 20 years and a Thatcherite heaven of opportunity will open up following the privatisation of space travel. In a similarly optimistic vein, Berry breezily dismisses global warming. But there is a hitch in the shape of a new ice age. We have 500 years to prepare for a 100,000-year cold snap.

After Breathless by Jennifer Potter (Bloomsbury, pounds 5.99) Set on the windswept beaches outside Bordeaux and the Gauloise-wreathed boulevards of Sixties Paris, Jennifer Potter's sexy new novel will fuel the fantasies of the most romantically-minded Francophiles. Janey Wilcox, a 19-year-old student on a year abroad, falls for a middle-aged Frenchman with lips as full as Jean-Paul Belmondo's and several armoires-full of family skeletons. They spend their time lunching on lamb stew in dodgy roadside caffs and making out in the front seats of Renault Gordinis. A story of mad, bad love, dark secrets and lots of unfinished essays.

Fanny Stevenson by Alexandre Lapierre (Fourth Estate, pounds 8.99) ''Heart- whole and soul-free'', Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of his wife Fanny whom he married in 1880, and in many way this charismatic, free-thinking American woman led a life every bit as adventurous as his own. Married before she met him, Fanny continued to thrive after the writer's death - abandoning their island home and taking a lover several decades her junior (a man who later married her only daugher, a mere slip of a girl aged 56.) Lapierre has unearthed a fascinating subject for a biography, but her inclusion of fictionalised dialogue to enrich her story only overloads the tale.

Krik? Krak! by Edwige Danticat (Abacus, pounds 5.99) Edwige Danticat draws on her own experiences as a Haitian exile to write about the children of first generation immigrants in New York City. This collection includes ''Caroline's Wedding'', a moving account of a young woman preparing for her sister's marriage and a new life outside the family's Brooklyn home and ''New York Day Woman'', the story of a daughter who spies on her mother as she window-shops along Madison Avenue. A little heavy on folk wisdom and hokey sayings, but Danticat, who was recently chosen by Granta as one of America's top 20 young writers, is a master of quiet and dignified prose.

A Time to Keep by George Mackay Brown (Flamingo, pounds 5.99): The lives of the Orkney fishermen who populate Mackay Brown's stories are so elemental and bleak that it comes as a shock when a car judders over the skyline, indicating that a particular tale is set not in the Iron Age, but in 1952. This, his second collection (reissued just before the author's death this year) includes the story of Celia, a young woman forced to take in Norwegian skippers to pay for her whisky habit, and the ballad of Capt Stevens, an old sea dog who drowns himself in navy rum and self-pity. These windswept tales that leave you more invigorated than depressed.

Comments