Paperbacks

The Vanishing; Murderers I Have Known; What I Loved; The Broken Places; Tony Blair: the man who lost his smile; Cinema Eden; New Writing 12

The Vanishing by Tim Krabbe (BLOOMSBURY £6.99 (115pp))

Like his Nordic cousins Henning Mankell and Karin Fossum, both currently enjoying success in the British crime charts, Dutch writer Tim Krabbe shares a Northern European taste for depressive heroes and sinister scenarios. The Vanishing, which will already be familiar to anyone who's seen either of the novel's cinematic incarnations, is no less chilling now than it was at the time of its original publication in 1984.

At the heart of this noirish novelette is the disappearance of a young woman at a French motor-way service station. Rex and Saskia, boyfriend and girlfriend, are heading for the South of France via a night in a hotel in Nuits-St-Georges. Bickering about whether or not to stop for petrol, they finally pull off at a TOTAL garage. Rex waits in the car, as Saskia disappears for a cold drink and a quick rifle through Marie Claire. An hour later and she still hasn't returned.

Krabbe's authorial voice, like Patricia Highsmith's, manages to convey a sensibility every bit as sinister as that of his creation. Indeed the novel's amoral killer, Raymond Lemorne, is party to many of Ripley's obsessions, including a fixation with sartorial neatness and expensive gourmet treats. It's Krabbe's strong characters and dialogue, particularly between his men and women, that make this cleverly plotted story more than just another imported chiller. EH

Murderers I Have Known by Marina Warner (VINTAGE £6.99 (165pp))

Reminiscent of AS Byatt's short stories, Marina Warner's tales glimmer with the cerebral pickings of a true culture vulture. The heroines of her modern-day parables are women with sharp hair-cuts and an in-depth knowledge of medieval history, Third Reich naturalism and Italian food. They might be just about to turn their backs on romance, but new appetites usually get in the way. "I'd open the window to let in a lover with the soft rush of the dark," says the narrator of the title story, "if I didn't keep noticing things which make me fasten the latch instead." EH

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt (SCEPTRE £6.99 (370pp))

In the sparse living spaces of Soho and the Village, Siri Hustvedt's characters - a bunch of New York artists, critics and poets - spend so much time analysing their interior lives and creative output, there's nothing left for their therapists to add. Then comes along a tragedy so terrible that any kind of solace feels redundant. This is an intimate and intelligent novel tracing the inter-related histories of a group of friends over several decades set against the changing face of the New York art world. As a writer, Hustvedt isn't afraid to allow every nuance to surface, however complicated and difficult to explain. EH

The Broken Places by Susan Perabo (BLOOMSBURY £6.99 (254pp))

Written before September 11, Susan Perabo's assured debut takes a scarily prescient look at a family of Pennsylvanian fire-fighters suddenly thrust into the middle of a media circus. The novel is told from the viewpoint of 12-year old Paul whose dad, Sonny, becomes an over-night celebrity when he rescues a local youth from a collapsing house. Suddenly Sonny is being courted by Hollywood, and seems to have adopted the reprobate teen as his new best friend. Perabo's smart plotting lends this commonplace story of childhood rage unexpected heat. EH

Tony Blair: the man who lost his smile by Leo Abse (ROBSON £9.99 (337pp))

First published to delighted controversy in 1996 and now updated to include an even more devastating range of Prime Ministerial quirks, this psychoanaltyic hatchet job is hugely entertaining. As an Old Labour reformer of the unspun variety, Leo Abse was clearly not destined to be best buddies with the perma-grinning Premier. But even the keenest anti-Blairite must feel the odd touch of sympathy for the man whose baby- and toddlerhood, not to mention rock-performing late adolescence, are here so mercilessly raked over. CP

Cinema Eden by Juan Goytisolo (SICKLE MOON £9.99 (140pp))

For many years, Juan Goytisolo (see interview, page 20) has explored the social byways of his beloved Muslim Mediterranean. In these luminous, engrossing essays, he takes readers from the mountain shrines of Morocco to the inhabited cemeteries of Cairo, from the mysticism of whirling dervishes to the muscle of Turkish wrestlers, and into the "palimpsest" of Istanbul - always with an intimacy and authority that no travel hack could match. At home on the margins, privy to strange secrets, Goytisolo (ably assisted by his translator, Peter Bush) lends lyricism and dignity to the poorest of lives. BT

New Writing 12 Edited by Diran Adebayo, Blake Morrison and Jane Rodgers (PICADOR £8.99 (331pp))

The British Council's annual trawl of famous names and feisty newcomers again hauls in a tasty anthology. A representative snapshot of BritLit? No, but forget the demographics and just enjoy new verse from the likes of Sarah Maguire and Fred D'Aguiar; fiction by Maggie O'Farrell and Barbara Trapido; and strong essays on belonging and estrangement from Ian Sansom, Sukhdev Sandhu and Alex Clark. BT

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