Major Major: Memories of an Older Brother by Terry Major-Ball, Warner Books pounds 6.99. It would be impossible to invent a more Pooterish family story: the trapeze artist and manufacturer of garden gnomes who sired two sons, one destined for 10 Downing Street, the other for low-paid jobs, then long-term unemployment in Croydon. These memoirs might have been choked with bile, but instead they are absolutely charming. Political questions are seen in terms of family and neighbourhood as when, in America, the ex-national serviceman must defend the British constitution ("essential to have the Queen as a figurehead and commander-in-chief") or when he is told he "must" join a trade union: "I was furious ... but Shirley wisely restrained me saying I should join the union and only resign if they forced me to do something against my will."
A Scandalous Life: the Biography of Jane Digby by Mary S Lovell, Fourth Estate pounds 8.99. Jane Digby seems like a character from a feminist alternative to The Flashman Papers, though she was certainly no coward, unlike the fictional Harry Flashman. Digby enjoyed a lifelong romp through Europe and the Middle East, having sexual and political adventures at peak points in 19th-century history. Married to a cabinet minister as a teenager, she was sensationally divorced before moving on to a German aristocrat and then the King of Bavaria. Subsequently she lived in a cave with a Balkan bandit and married, for the last time, a Bedouin Sheikh nearly half her age. Exciting stuff.
Heart's Journey in Winter by James Buchan, Harvill pounds 6.99. Buchan, as if to prove that Cold War stories can still be written, goes back before Gorbachev to the last of the face-offs between the Americans and the Soviets, the tit-for-tat deployment of Pershing and SS-20 missiles on either side of the not-yet-rusty Iron Curtain. His hero, Richard Fisher, is a traditional figure out of Deighton and le Carre, an allegedly competent MI6 spy who deep down is as soft and scruffy as a damaged old teddy bear. When his love for another agent, the beautiful Polina, gets him involved over his head in the secret agendas of German politics, the potential string of betrayals and tragedies is a long one. Buchan's writing is well up to the best of his exemplars and my only complaint is his tendency to leave the reader floundering whenever he fast-forwards the plot.
Jeffrey Archer: Stranger than Fiction by Michael Crick, Penguin pounds 7.99. One day, Archer's career may be recognised as a touchstone for British public life in the 1980s - the decade of his greatest prominence. He started life as "Tuppence", a pet name derived apparently from his habitual question in sweet shops: "Anything for tuppence?" Archer's own account of himself as a young bighead also serves for the older man: "I was pretty intolerable. I always wanted to be number one." The meld of cockiness, ambition and an interest in money carried him to parliament in his twenties and then, after surviving a disastrous investment in an anti-pollution device for car engines, to best- selling author and deputy chairman of the Tory Party. Crick's sceptical research does us a real service. He's even read all those novels, providing handy notes detailing their hidden meanings.
River of Time by Jon Swain, Minerva pounds 6.99. Jon Swain was a journalist with Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran in the Cambodian capital when it fell to the Khmer Rouge, and these memoirs are Swain's own incomparable account of the killing fields of Cambodia and Vietnam. The details are often gruesome and always heartbreaking, as Swain drives home the essential witness- statement of all true war correspondents: that war is the offspring of ignorance and deceit. It's impossible to close this fine book with any martial illusions intact.
After Breathless by Jennifer Potter, Bloomsbury pounds 5.99. In this erotic romance between Janey, English ingenue, and Georges, mid-thirties with a dodgy past and questionable character, the worn but very serviceable theme of Du Maurier's Rebecca gets a thorough reconditioning. At the same time, this is France in the late Sixties and echoes of those morally uncomfortable Godard films resound through the plot. In the brainfever of young love, Janey finds it enough, at first, for life to imitate art, for Georges to be "Belmondo to my Anna Karina". But ultimately her humanist principles come unravelled too far, under uncomfortable pressure from Georges's insalubrious activities.
Roger Protz and Homer Sykes have combed the land for out-of-the- way hostelries of charm and historic interest in The Village Pub (Weidenfeld pounds 8.99). We're talking a lot of inglenooks and horse-brasses here, though the Crown in Chiddingfold, Surrey has a sedan chair converted into a phone- box. Above, the bar game Toad in the Hole, played in the Red Lion, Snargate, KentReuse content