Paperbacks

I Can't Wait On God by Albert French | Serendipities by Umberto Eco | Rubicon by Steven Saylor | Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Trilogy ed Nick Browne | The Highwayman by Jessica Berens

I Can't Wait On God by Albert French (Vintage £6.99) Having stabbed a fat pimp to death after he demanded a blow job, the very sexy but slightly psychotic Willet Mercer hits the road with her man Jeremiah Henderson, heading for North Carolina to see her son. The acquaintances they leave behind in Fifties Pittsburgh carry on dancing, drinking and gambling to escape the harsh rigours of poverty, police brutality and segregation and the midday sun, or just sit on their porches and try to mind their own business. Although many of them smoke more than they speak, French's dialogue captures the bathetic cadences of the blues, while his densely compacted prose, shot through with searing images, has the rhythmic complexity of jazz.

Serendipities by Umberto Eco (Phoenix, £6.99) A collection of five lectures and essays in which Eco expounds on the idea that various misunderstandings, mistakes, myths and culture-clashes have ultimately led to greater knowledge and had a profound impact on the world. He reiterates each point with several examples - although a decision seems to have been reached between him and his translator, William Weaver, not to translate many of the lengthy Latin phrases and passages within. Having read Serendipities I now feel less well-read than before I started. Beginning a sentence with the condescending phrase, "Even a high school student can deduce that ..." doesn't help.

Rubicon by Steven Saylor (Robinson £6.99) The seventh mystery for Gordianus - Saylor's avuncular, sleuthing ancient Roman - opens with a corpse on page one, and then continues at breakneck speed against the backdrop of an imminent civil war as Caesar prepares to invade. Although the history feels well-researched, it's merely a gimmicky backdrop. Murder, betrayal, adultery, greed and concealed compartments containing parchments are surely as old as Rome, but Saylor's excellent pacing and skilful exposition is disrupted by clumsy reminders that we are supposed to be in ancient times. I kept expecting one of the comedy slaves to remark upon a funny thing that happened on his way to the Forum.

Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Trilogy ed Nick Browne (Cambridge £10.95) Five essays by American film theorists which examine Coppola's greatest achievement. The best of them, Vera Dika's lucid and precise study of ethnicity within the films, looks at The Godfather's claims to authenticity and the way it reappropriates the Italian gangster from earlier Hollywood movies. Topics for discussion elsewhere include genre, ideology, opera and the Mafia. The Cambridge Film Handbook series is probably of less interest to the general reader than Bloomsbury, Faber or BFI guides. Strange that, if it's aimed at academics, the filmography should be incomplete, but it does do Coppola a great service by ending in 1992.

The Highwayman by Jessica Berens (Arrow £5.99) A middle-aged, machine-gun-toting alcoholic, her sensitive but delinquent teenage son, a nymphomaniac dwarf poet, a wannabe crimelord with a hygiene obsession, the members of a fashion shoot including the vicious Teutonic photographer and a gay assistant in full Native American garb, plus butch lesbians, biker gangs, hoteliers and New Age therapists, all converge in a small Somerset town. That's more than enough wild and wacky characters to fill a Carl Hiaasen or Nicholas Blincoe thriller. Unfortunately it's also more than the plot of Berens's second novel can sustain, and in drawing the strands of her narrative together she leaves a lot of loose ends.

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