Paperbacks: The Memory Man<br></br> Gang of Four<br></br> Malicious Intent<br></br> Old Filth<br></br> Eats, Shoots & Leaves<br></br> Britain's Best Museums & Galleries<br></br> The Court of the Caliphs

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The Independent Culture

If the memory of emotional trauma can be recorded in our cells as irrevocably as any physical assault, then it might follow that Holocaust survivors share a distinctive physiological profile. In her latest novel, Lisa Appignanesi sets herself the difficult challenge of unpicking the mechanics of memory, and, in particular, the biochemical makeup of one Polish-Jewish scientist, Herr Dr Bruno Lind. Lind, a renowned neuroscientist, is in Vienna to give a talk when he takes a very literal trip down memory lane. Wandering down the street of his childhood home - near the Freuds - he is mown down by a boy on a skate-board. His fall leaves him disorientated and contemplating his childhood, one interrupted by the Anschluss and the disappearance of his father. It's these memories that prompt Lind to abandon the conference and pay a visit to Krakow to unearth his parents' unusual wartime past. Also sharing the trip are two conference delegates with agendas of their own - Irena Davies, a journalist wanting to understand her mother's decline from Alzheimer's, and Aleksander Tarski, an enigmatic pharmacologist. Appignanesi's depiction of Nazi Europe is notable for its atavistic sense of place. Madeleine moments are examined with an eye to science as well as the soul.

Gang of Four, by Liz Byrski
TRANSITA £7.99 (426pp)

Written by an English-born West Australian, this sunny-spirited debut chronicles a year in the life of four women friends, who, approaching late middle-age, are frisky for change. Matriarchal Isabel starts the ball rolling by quitting her job as town mayor and heading off to Europe for adventure; Robin breaks off a relationship with a judge; Grace decides to learn the art of patchwork; and Sally revisits her youth in San Francisco. A likeable if pedestrian narrative that could benefit from a Susannah and Trinny-style make-over: time to ditch clichés about self-discovery and work-life balance, and book into the local spa.

Malicious Intent, by Kathryn Fox
HODDER £6.99 (468pp)

Dr Anya Crichton, a pathologist and forensic physician, finds that work is hard to come by for the only female freelancer in Northern Sydney. Between paying child support and a mortgage, she's subsidising a court battle - fighting her ex-husband for custody of their three-year-old son. Called in to investigate a teenage suicide, she picks up on similarities between the girl's death and several other recent cases. Patricia Cornwall's forensic fantasies may have cooled, but Fox's morgue-talk promises to plug the gap with a crime debut that nicely marries the personal life of the sleuth with that of the murder victim. Mother love rather than romantic love takes centre stage.

Old Filth, by Jane Gardam
ABACUS £6.99 (256pp)

Jane Gardam has always been at her best writing about childhood and old age. Sir Edward Feathers, the central character of her latest novel, is a retired colonial judge, transplanted from Hong Kong to the quiet of Dorset. After the death of his capable Scottish wife, Betty, he reverts to being a babe-in arms, his childhood suddenly vivid to him. Gardam traces the history of his early Kipling-style years - as a "Raj Orphan" he was shipped between the colonies and one educational institution after another - and his subsequent life as an expat. A novel of great perception and quietly killing prose.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss
PROFILE £6.99 (209pp)

Lynne Truss's blockbusting bestseller begins with a punctuation repair kit and ends with a statement about the government. The "dodgy dossier" which dogged and then damned it (but not according to Butler) reproduced a "misplaced comma" that appeared in the original online material. "Who would have thought" asks Truss triumphantly, "that a British government would be rumbled on a comma"? Her passionate and witty disquisition on the uses and abuses of apostrophes (the "frantically multi-tasking female" to the full stop's "lumpen male") and dashes is as fresh and funny as when it first appeared.

Britain's Best Museums & Galleries, by Mark Fisher
PENGUIN £20 (841pp)

What makes this glorious gazetteer of 350 treasure-houses such a lasting joy is the infectious breadth of its vision. Mark Fisher, MP and ex-arts minister, tours all the great palaces of art with flair and learning. Yet he shines and charms most with scores of tinier gems, from the maritime mementos at Stromness in Orkney to the eerie antiquities around Freud's couch in Hampstead.

The Court of the Caliphs, by Hugh Kennedy
PHOENIX £9.99 (326pp)

For the two centuries after 750, Baghdad was the brilliant centre of Muslim life. This richly-woven history of the Abbasid caliphs matches pace to depth as it explains how the city on the Tigris gave the world lessons in poetry, luxury, and all the arts of living and ruling. Oddly, even Osama bin Laden and his grim gang hark back to the glory of Baghdad in its golden, 1001 Nights age of wine, song and sensuality.

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