Paperbacks: Keeping Secrets<br/>Toxic Childhood<br/>A Much-Married Man<br/>This Book Will Save Your Life<br/>A Lie About My Father<br/>After Blair<br/>For Lust of Knowing

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The Independent Culture

Keeping Secrets, by Andrew Rosenheim (ARROW £6.99 (392pp))

Andrew Rosenheim's repressed heroes often find themselves caught in the crossfire: dodging both bullets and demanding women. The central character of his latest novel, the implausibly named Jack Renoir, has more to hide them most. As a young boy in California, Jack witnesses his uncle's murder. The childhood trauma leaves him with an unhealthy fascination with crime, and as an adult he finds his niche as an adviser on industrial security. It's over an ocean-side business lunch that he first meets Kate Palmer, a well-spoken English oil consultant - the first woman for whom he has ever felt anything approaching love. It's only after he makes the unlikely decision to move to England that he starts to suspect she may be concealing secrets as insidious as his own. Before romance enters the picture, Keeping Secrets holds all the narrative promise of a good stateside thriller. But once the two love-birds start to exchange transatlantic pleasantries - "Leg-over? I've never heard it called that before" - the novel's credibility wanes. Perhaps American readers will enjoy Rosenheim's portrait of upper-class English life - Kate turns out to be posh - but most English readers will wish he had stuck to a more traditional story of corporate skulduggery and small-town showdowns. EH

Toxic Childhood, by Sue Palmer (ORION £7.99 (361pp))

If you don't know whether your child is currently plugged into a Game Boy, a DS Lite or PS3, then you're on a slippery slope. One in five children in Britain suffers from mental health problems or behavioural and learning difficulties, and according to early-years expert, Sue Palmer, we only have ourselves to blame. In a guilt-inducing, but horribly convincing, analysis of modern childhood, Palmer points the finger at a technology-driven culture that has "evolved faster than our biology" and left our children unable to "think, learn and behave". Her solution: home cooking, plenty of fresh air and lights out by 8pm. EH

A Much-Married Man, by Nicholas Coleridge (ORION £6.99 (561pp))

Unlike most recent blockbusters on the subject, Nicholas Coleridge's upbeat family saga takes a laissez-faire approach to the business of separation and divorce. Well-meaning toff Anthony Anscombe makes the mistake of marrying at 18, but instead of repenting at leisure, continues to re-tie the knot several times over. It's not long before he has populated the surrounding Oxfordshire countryside with a tribe of horsey daughters and delinquent sons. His happiest moments, however, are shared with a Bayswater masseuse. This is Jilly Cooper territory, only with classier interiors and better-groomed dogs. EH

This Book Will Save Your Life, by A M Homes (GRANTA £7.99 (372pp))

A M Homes's best-known novel, The End of Alice, examined the horrors of paedophilia. In a change of emotional tack, her latest deals with the nature of goodness. Richard Novak is a celibate divorcé whose life in affluent LA has left him immune to human connection. After a health scare, he decides to re-engage by performing random acts of kindness: he sends a frazzled mother to a luxury hotel, lends his car to the man in the doughnut shop, and helps rescue a horse (an aerial equine harness is required) from a sinkhole outside his house. A disarming portrait of modern anomie. EH

A Lie About My Father, by John Burnside (VINTAGE £8.99 (324pp))

You sometimes wonder if there's anything that John Burnside can't do. A fantastically prolific writer of dark and haunting fiction, and of exquisitely delicate lyric poetry, he also wrote the best memoir of last year. A Lie About My Father is, according to a brief foreword, "best treated as a work of fiction". This is not the nervous writer's habitual disclaimer, but a more general point about living with lies that become part of the fabric of your being. Burnside's moving account of growing up with a violent, bullying fantasist of a father is, literally, a journey into a heart of darkness - but one here lit up by beauty and truth. CP

After Blair, by Kieron O'Hara (ICON £8.99 (390pp))

Two years ago, O'Hara made a lively and readable case for a modernised conservatism - warmly reviewed by a Tory "policy wonk", David Cameron. The new version feels different, and not as cohesive. Mixed with his engaging gallop through conservative ideas from the Greeks to John Gray comes topical analysis of Cameron's "escape from the wilderness" - astute, but closer to standard punditry. Labour should still be scared by the zest and nous shown here. BT

For Lust of Knowing, by Robert Irwin (PENGUIN £9.99 (410pp))

Irwin's defence of "orientalist" scholarship about the Islamic world starts and ends with blasts at the alleged "charlatanry" of Edward Said's influential Orientalism. Yet there's far more here than overcooked polemic. At the book's heart lies a learned, affectionate canter through the colourful lives of eccentric voyagers who brought knowledge of the East to the West. Mere tools of imperialism? Not at all, says Irwin, who savours their oddball erudition. BT

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