Paperbacks: Dirk Bogarde<br></br>Maggie: Her fatal legacy<br></br>Planet Simpson<br></br>Limeys<br></br>All the Wrong Places<br></br>Village of Stone<br></br>Fleshmarket Close

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The Independent Culture

A text of more than 700 pages may appear excessive in the case of Dirk Bogarde. An actor too nervy for the stage, he had a film career remembered for a handful of roles, in particular his startling performances in The Servant and Death in Venice. Yet this closely observed portrait is a triumph. Coldstream has produced the showbiz equivalent of Michael Holroyd's vast portrait of Lytton Strachey. Bogarde emerges as a compelling figure, poised yet deeply uneasy. Though a man of the utmost sensitivity, he could be astoundingly vicious. Arriving at the house of John Schlesinger, Bogarde announced: "John, this is a rich man's house. And you've had nothing but flops." He could be funny and charming ("I was the Loretta Young of my day"), but Charlotte Rampling saw him as "a soul in incredible torment". Bogarde hid his homosexuality (rather inadequately, considering the leather trousers he wore in The Singer Not the Song) but enjoyed a long and happy relationship with Tony Forwood. It is likely he found greatest satisfaction when he established a second career as an acutely intelligent writer. He admitted that his appointment as a book critic by The Daily Telegraph, where his biographer worked, "chucked a plank across a ravine for me". Coldstream's wholly absorbing portrait delivers pleasure on every page. CH

Maggie: Her fatal legacy, by John Sergeant (PAN £8.99 (390pp))

Despite the joky cover, which capitalises on the author's new career as "a guest on many light entertainment shows", this is a thoughtful indictment of Thatcher. Sergeant, who admits that he once viewed her as "a superstar", now blasts the "personality cult" of Thatcherism and her influence. Her implacable policy of ABC ("Anyone But Clarke") is largely responsible for her party's travails. Often amusing, this book also contains a real scoop. On the eve of her resignation, Thatcher was visited by the Labour MP Frank Field. This impartial adviser told her to go. CH

Planet Simpson, by Chris Turner (EBURY £7.99 (471pp))

Chris Turner has not only seen every episode of The Simpsons; he also remembers every detail of this intricately detailed cartoon. The resulting celebration of "the most biting American satire in years" is sui generis, but the combination of motor-mouthed omniscience and voluminous footnotes is reminiscent of a certain style of highbrow writing about pop music. Devotees of The Simpsons will whoop about Turner's critical intelligence and social awareness. He views Homer as "not just dumb but influential... a perfect stand-in for the average, self-absorbed, self-important Baby Boomer". Non-fans will see 470 pages of geeky raving. CH

Limeys, by David I Harvie (SUTTON £8.99 (323pp))

Scurvy was a far more effective enemy of the British tar than any foreign cannon. When a fleet of 2,000 men left Portsmouth in 1743, only 600 were alive after three years. All but four were killed by scurvy, a disease that prevents the creation of connective tissue (collagen). The hero of Harvie's fascinating account is James Lind, a Scottish naval surgeon who proved that citrus juice was an antiscorbutic in 1747. In fact, its effectiveness had been known for at least two centuries. Even so, it was another 50 years before the Admiralty acted: by 1859, British ships became known as "lime-juicers". Hence limeys. CH

All the Wrong Places, by James Fenton (GRANTA £8.99 (269pp))

When a poet becomes a foreign correspondent, interesting things happen. A piece on the Vietnam war begins with Fenton asking a South Vietnamese soldier: "Why do you paint your little fingernails"? After the fall of Saigon, Fenton scurries to his helicopter carrying the French diplomatic bag: "My last memory is of tropical rain on very expensive new leather". Fenton plays Bach on the Marcos's piano during the Snap Revolution and causes "consternation" when he visits a monastery toilet in war-torn Cambodia. "No have 'Kiss Me'," a monk says (a brand of toilet paper). Gutsy yet tender, this is a classic of journalism. CH

Village of Stone, by Xiaolu (VINTAGE £6.99 (181pp))

Filmmaker-turned-writer Xiaolu Guo has lost a slice of her name in paperback, but this toughly lyrical novel keeps all its force and grace as a glimpse of China torn between two worlds. A parcel of dried eel sends the narrator back from brittle yuppie Beijing to the seaside village of her bitter childhood. In deft, bold brushstrokes, Xiaolu draws new China, in tones free both of glib nostalgia and fashionable hype. BT

Fleshmarket Close, by Ian Rankin (ORION £6.99 (482pp))

Why don't the Rebus novels run out of puff, as so many crime series do? Rankin makes sure they move with his society, growing into a richly-plotted and densely-textured portrait of modern Scotland and its ills. In this 15th case, Rebus uncovers the deadly secrets of a people-smuggling racket, a "little slave empire" with sinister connections to Edinburgh's dark past and present. Rebus's partner, Siobhan Clarke, goes from strength to strength. BT