Paperbacks: <br/>Never the Bride <br/>The Dinner Club <br/>Rule of the Bone <br/>Brown Owl's Guide to Life<br/> Obedience, Struggle &amp; Revolt <br/>T&ecirc;te-&agrave;-T&ecirc;te <br/> Granta 96

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The Independent Culture

Never the Bride, By Paul Magrs (HEADLINE £11.99 (245pp))

The seaside town of Whitby is not short on local lore and legend. In a supernatural comedy that takes its cue from Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, novelist Paul Magrs - also the author of several Doctor Who stories - evokes the "vinegary warmth" and gothic undertones of this northerly resort. Brenda, the novel's convivial narrator, is the proprietress of an upmarket bed-and-breakfast. Large, bald and plastered in concealing cosmetics, she's torn between keeping herself to herself and exploring the town's dark, winding lanes. Her friendship with Effie, the trim owner of the antiques shop next door, is based on an unspoken agreement not to pry into one another's pasts. Whitby is home to any number of washed-up souls, and Brenda has secrets to hide. In a narrative that segues between humour and horror, Magrs transforms Whitby into the holiday resort from hell. The visitors to the town, which is home to the Deadly Boutique (a beauty salon that literally peels back the years) and the Christmas Hotel (run by an obese Mrs Claus and her band of camply attired elves), prove as outlandish as the natives. The plot line is fantastical, but Magrs keeps us anchored with a cast of well-realised characters. Brenda's quest for normality and a well-run home proves unexpectedly touching. EH

The Dinner Club, by Saskia Noort trans Paul Vincent (BITTER LEMON PRESS £9.99 (253pp))

In a novel that embodies the best in Euro-crime, Dutch thriller writer Saskia Noort turns a conventional mid-life crisis into something more sinister. After leaving Amsterdam for the countryside, committed urbanite Karen van de Made despairs of ever making new friends. When she finally tracks down a group of like-minded women, she finds herself admitted to the heart of a dangerously incestuous social circle. A series of flirtation-fuelled evenings leads to a string of tragic deaths. Paul Vincent's unobtrusive translation is spot on. EH

Rule of the Bone, by Russell Banks (BLOOMSBURY £7.99 (293pp))

When Russell Banks's novel was first published more than a decade ago, its hyper-mature boy narrator, "T the Bone", was hailed as the Huck Finn of the MTV generation. Rejected by his mother and abusive stepfather for stealing from the family coin collection, 14-year-old Bone takes to the road. After a period of shoplifting and drug-dealing, he moves into a derelict school bus with a Rastafarian. Banks's motor-mouth dialogue only starts to lose momentum when Bone travels to Jamaica to further his apprenticeship in pot-plant cultivation, and take up life as a dreadlocked white boy. A memorable slice of teen picaresque tszujed up with the language of the mall. EH

Brown Owl's Guide to Life, by Kate Harrison (ORION £6.99 (408pp))

The 35-year-old heroine of Kate Harrison's spirited third novel is used to being bossed around. For the first 18 years of her life it was her mother, a Brown Owl, who ruled the roost, and now her husband Andrew ("the civil service equivalent of Mr Universe") dictates the pattern of her life. Following her mother's death, Lucy reconvenes the Pixie troop of her childhood, and finds that the Brownie Handbook is the self-help manual she's always been searching for. A larky and undemanding tale of mid-life redemption that leaves even the most organised Girl Guide unprepared. EH

Obedience, Struggle & Revolt, by David Hare (FABER £9.99 (245pp))

These 15 lectures and tributes appear as delivered by the playwright in all their full-dress pomp. That means a declamatory manner, which David Hare invites us to treat as a dramatic voice, and a weakness for broad-brush obiter dicta about literature, the media and so on. He's best on his models and mentors, such as John Osborne and Raymond Williams, and in explaining his approach to themes such as the Church and rail privatisation. But when he lays down the law about novelists, critics or any other target via lazy clichés, he falls into the "deadly trade of opinion" he loathes so much in pundits. BT

Tête-à-Tête, by Hazel Rowley (VINTAGE £8.99 (429pp))

Sadly, this soapy account of the 50-year partnership of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre has only banal things to say about the ideas that made the Left Bank's intellectual royalty revered. This absence renders Hazel Rowley's virtues - her storytelling drive, and sure touch in keeping a complex set of friends and foes in plain view - not enough to let the book stand alone. But it may send readers back to the Beaver's memoirs, or the pair's letters. BT

Granta 96 (GRANTA £9.99 (255pp))

The theme for this issue, "War Zones" - loosely interpreted, as ever - offers up some real gems. Continuing his obsession with the darker side of life, John Burnside writes with his usual mesmerising grace about bullying. Brian Thompson tackles, with down-to-earth wit, the chaos and hysteria of post-Second World War military service, while A A Homes's chosen war zone is her blood family. Wendell Steavenson's account of last year's war in Lebanon chills the blood - as all war should. CP

To order these books call: 0870 079 8897

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