Paperbacks: The Devil's Star Tenderwire<br/> A Blow to the Heart <br/> Truth and Consequences <br/> Someone Like Me <br/> Curry

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The Independent Culture

The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbø trans Don Bartlett (VINTAGE £6.99 (522pp))

As we know from the crime novels of Henning Mankell and Karin Fossum, some of Europe's more open societies produce the most terrifying sociopaths. Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø continues in similar vein with a summer chiller featuring a serial killer who lops off fingers and stores them in unsanitary places. Summertime in Oslo is a good time for murder. Windows are left open, clothes stripped off. The first victim of the novel is young graphic designer, Camilla Loen. Flatmates are alerted to her fate when they notice droplets of blood plopping down from the kitchen ceiling into their new potatoes. First at the crime scene is detective Harry Hole. Spotting a five-sided diamond buried in the victim's flesh, he suspects a ritualistic murder. In common with other Scandinavian sleuths, Hole suffers from low serotonin and a complicated home life. To add to his stress levels he must work with Tom Waaler, a co-officer suspected of arms smuggling and worse. In a narrative that runs the full gamut of Euro-nastiness - from devil worship to neo-Nazism - Nesbø enlivens the proceedings with some choice observational detail. In one of the book's most shocking scenes, a woman is found mummified in her own waterbed. Nordic nookie and interior design are key to the novel's forensic outcome. EH

Tenderwire by Claire Kilroy (FABER £10.99 (266pp))

The Irish novelist Claire Kilroy's enigmatic second novel opens in a flourish of false notes. Eva is a concert violinist making her debut in New York. After her performance she collapses from an asthma attack and is rushed to hospital. Discharging herself, she wanders into a downtown hotel and ends up sleeping with a good-looking Latino at the bar. A few days later she's offered a rare Stradivarius on the black market, but must raise the cash in a week. As the deadline approaches, Eva's personal life implodes. Part love story, part thriller, this highly strung escapade is kept aloft by Kilroy's pitch-perfect prose. EH

A Blow to the Heart by Marcel Theroux (FABER £10.99 (216pp))

Writers and film-makers have a thing about boxing. Marcel Theroux gives the old-school clichés a contemporary spin with a novel about a woman's desire for revenge. At just 32, newly pregnant Daisy loses her husband when he's killed in a motiveless attack. Discovering that the killer is a boxer, Daisy decides to manipulate his comeuppance in the ring. A precise and fluent stylist, Theroux inhabits the boxing gym as unobtrusively as he does Daisy's more metropolitan world. In the end the macho arena of hand-to-hand combat doesn't prove nearly violent enough for Theroux's hate-filled heroine. EH

Truth and Consequences by Alison Lurie (VINTAGE £7.99 (232pp))

Campus novels are Alison Lurie's natural habitat. In this, her tenth novel, she returns to the leafy groves of Corinth university for the story of two couples on the brink of adultery. A sporting injury has turned Jane Mackenzie's good-looking, charming husband into a tedious bore. But while Jane plumps his cushions and fixes him snacks, Alan unexpectedly falls for Delia Delay, a celebrity academic with Botticelli hair and health problems of her own. Lurie exposes the mindsets of a group of characters for whom back pain is more consuming than the horrors of 9/11.EH

Someone Like Me by Miles Kington (HEADLINE £6.99 (343pp))

Miles Kington's first excitement was being kidnapped as a baby in his pram. It was, it turned out, the pram the thieves were after. As a boy, he soon got used to surprises. His almost parodically eccentric father, employed first as a German and then a British spy, had a pathological fear of wardrobes and a compulsion to invent new gadgets. These included a new kind of saddle, which led, not quite seamlessly, to a minimal, and mortifying, dose of sex education. From this material, his surreally unreliable narrator son has shaped a rich and vivid depiction of postwar life that's utterly charming and extremely funny. CP

Curry by Lizzie Collingham (VINTAGE £8.99 (318pp))

As its title hints, this truly delicious history of "cooks and conquerors" takes as its focus not Indian food per se but the hybrid cuisines born there, and here, by centuries of encounters. Garnished with many fine recipes, Collingham's rich banquet of stories shows how Indians' interaction with Persians, Portuguese, British and others brought fresh flavours to the local kitchen and the culture it fed. From biryani to lassi, it's a feast for the mind as well as the belly. BT

Selected Writings vol. 3: 1935-38 by Walter Benjamin (HARVARD £12.95 (462pp))

This volume in Harvard's superb edition of the German-Jewish thinker offers at least two pioneering masterworks. One is Benjamin's influential essay on the work of art in the age of technological media; the other his elegiac memoir, "Berlin Childhood Around 1900". These harsh years of exile in Paris left a batch of other treasures. Enduring light from one of the great minds of the century. BT

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