<i>Tree of Pearls</i> by Louisa Young | <i>Midnight All Day</i> by Hanif Kureishi | <i>Almost like a Whale </i>by Steve Jones
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The Independent Culture

Tree of Pearls by Louisa Young (Flamingo, £9.99, 228pp)

Tree of Pearls by Louisa Young (Flamingo, £9.99, 228pp)

Urban thriller, epic romance, exotic travelogue? The final novel in Louisa Young's Egyptian trilogy is almost impossible to pigeonhole. One thing is for sure: her swashbuckling heroine, Evangeline Gower, is a world away from the girlie singletons of mainstream fiction. Confident in her sexuality, relaxed about her looks and independent when it comes to travel, she's a latterday Victorian adventuress, minus extra baggage. She is also a single mother and ex-belly dancer, with more than the next month's rent on her mind. Young's latest instalment finds our free-spirited heroine with a direct line to Scotland Yard, a psychotic gangster and his alcoholic wife on her back, not to mention the trouble kicked up by the two men in her in life: D.I. Makins, (father to her child), and Sa'id el Araby (also father to her child).

Tree of Pearls ties up some of the series' loose ends. Sent to Egypt to help track down vice-lord Eddie Bates, Evangeline shimmies back into the world of sun-baked temples and pharaonic-eyed Sa'id. Resolution is the name of the game - Cairo and London, love and rejection, crime and punishment - and the finale rests on a delicious romantic dilemma.

Peppered with erudite snippets, Young's writing can be as lush as it is streetwise. It's this combination that makes Evangeline so appealing, and Young's busy and generous novel such an entertaining read. EH

Midnight All Day by Hanif Kureishi (Faber, £6.99, 217pp)

Serious about love, cavalier about falling out of it, Hanif Kureishi's novel Intimacy was a controversial account of a marriage break-up . His latest collection of stories touches on the unspoken pleasures of divorce. The men are fast approaching middle-age, and though they may have made it in artistic circles (as screenwriters, novelists, or actors), they only feel alive when desire raises its head. Husbands sleep with flaky exes; fantastic doorstep quarrels light up the suburbs. A long, cool look at starting over.

Almost like a Whale by Steve Jones (Anchor, £8.99, 499pp)

This least stuffy of scientists notes that his first encounter with evolution came when he observed refinements in machinery while working in a soap-powder factory. Incorporating Darwin's chapter summaries, Jones's updating of The Origin of Species is a triumph of elucidation. Despite his defence of Darwinism (did you know our backbone evolved from the teeth of an eel-like worm?), he ends with a humanistic assertion: "Much of what makes us what we are does not need a Darwinian explanation."