Paperbacks: The Naming of Eliza Quinn<br/> Death in the Truffle Wood<br/> A Map of Glass<br/> One Hundred Siberian Postcards<br/> Love, Poverty &amp; War<br/> The Game<br/> Minaret

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The Independent Culture

The Naming of Eliza Quinn, by Carol Birch (VIRAGO £6.99 (342pp))

In Carol Birch's eighth novel, plucky New Yorker Beatrice exchanges metropolitan living for her aunt's cottage on the south-west coast of Ireland. In the midst of home improvements she makes an unnerving discovery: squirreled away in the tree at the bottom of the garden she finds the remains of a long-dead baby. The rest of the novel - which backtracks to the 1900s and beyond - is an attempt to understand how it got there. Part rags-to-riches narrative, part literary drama, the novel traces a family history better known to the locals than Beatrice herself. Acting as self-appointed genealogist, Beatrice works out that she has a more familial connection with the infant skeleton than she might like to think. It also dawns on her that she's a relative of Luke Quinn - the youth who skulks outside her window at night. The domestic details of Beatrice's new life are seductive, but the novel's most memorable chapters are those set during the 1840s potato famine. Birch offers up the stench and misery of rural blight - the mystery of the baby bones acting as further gothic wash to this compelling tale of misplaced superstition. EH

Death in the Truffle Wood, by Pierre Magnan (VINTAGE £7.99 (201pp))

Like a yokel version of Georges Simenon's Maigret, Commissaire Laviolette is a familiar figure in French crime fiction. Cynical and humorous, he polices his remote domain in upper Provence with a firm, but fair, hand. When faced with an outbreak of murders, he calls on the olfactory talents of a truffle-hunting pig. Written in the 1970s, this whimsical whodunit will appeal to those more interested in woodland foraging than forensic finesse. EH

A Map of Glass, by Jane Urquhart (BLOOMSBURY £7.99 (371pp))

The grandeur of the Canadian wilderness often lies at the heart of the work of poet and novelist Jane Urquhart. Her latest novel opens with a memory-blitzed old man walking to his death across a snowy landscape. Left to find his frozen body is artist Jerome McNaughton, a young man wintering on an island in Lake Ontario. The identity of the dead man becomes clearer when he is visited by Sylvia, who claims to have been the dead man's lover. Patience is required to de-thaw Urquhart's studied pronouncements on meaning and memory. EH

One Hundred Siberian Postcards, by Richard Wirick (TELEGRAM £9.99 (240pp))

Already father of twins, LA lawyer Wirick travelled to Siberia to adopt an orphaned girl. Yet this entrancing book is as far from a smug baby-rescue saga as Irkutsk is from Malibu. Each snow-bright "postcard" catches a facet of Siberian myth, history or wildlife, from mutant fish to marauding bears. Even when his adoption story starts, the folklore and fauna shadow every step. From the "land of mines", he digs up gem after glittering gem. BT

Love, Poverty & War, by Christopher Hitchens (ATLANTIC £9.99 (475pp))

Not every fan of the Hitch will care to follow him into the strange terrain of the Leftie Neocon - almost where the post-11 September pieces in this sweeping essay collection ends. His "disgust and annoyance" with the politics of faith aside, there's much to relish in his evocation of writers (Waugh to Proust), locations (Hollywood to Havana) and icons. Time and again, you hear a thwarted pastoral strain beneath the polemical voice we know and (sometimes) love. BT

The Game, by Neil Strauss (CANONGATE £8.99 (494pp))

Neil Strauss's account of his journey from nerdy loser to superstud is as disturbing as it is compelling. Living in a community of pick-up artists in LA, he learns the art of the "neg" ("an accidental insult") and hundreds of other techniques designed to get beautiful women into the sack. If you're a man, don't read it. CP

Minaret, by Leila Aboulela (BLOOMSBURY £7.99 (276pp))

Leila Aboulela's buoyant new novel throws open the doors on an alien world of Sudanese rich kids and displaced aristos. Its likeable narrator, Najwa, moves from a privileged youth in Khartoum - partying to Michael Jackson mixes - to life as a maid in Regent's Park. Following the coup that takes her to England, she searches out the comforts of the Mosque and the hijab. A novel that unpacks complex emotional baggage with deceptive sleight of hand. EH

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