The Quality of Mercy, by Barry Unsworth
The 9/11 Wars, by Jason Burke
The Roundabout Man, by Clare Morrall
The Confidant, by Hélène Grémillon
A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing, by Lawrence M Krauss

Paperback reviews of the week

The Quality of Mercy, by Barry Unsworth Windmill £7.99

The novelist Barry Unsworth, who died in June, is probably best known for his Booker Prize-winner Sacred Hunger (1992), which tells of a revolt aboard a slaving ship in the Atlantic.

The book is not just a stirring adventure yarn, but a parable of capitalist greed: Unsworth's mutineers establish a commune in Florida where whites and freed blacks live in harmony, until the slave trader, Erasmus Kemp, driven by a "hunger" for profit, tracks them down.

The Quality of Mercy is a belated but worthy sequel to that fine novel. The narrative begins in 1767: Kemp has brought the rebellious sailors back to London to have them tried for piracy. Standing in his way is a progressive lawyer, Frederick Ashton, who sees the case as a way of publicising the abolitionist movement, and Frederick's sister Jane, who hopes to charm Kemp into recanting his support for slavery. Woven in is the story of a mining community in Durham, where Kemp has a commercial interest.

This proved to be Unsworth's final book, and it showcases his abundant strengths as a historical novelist.

He renders the texture of 18th-century life in vivid detail, but also insists upon moral values that transcend the specificities of period and place, showing us that when a society begins to confuse moral rectitude with commercial shrewdness, then it is assuredly lost. In doing so, Unsworth both evokes a bygone time and speaks eloquently to our own. His voice will be missed.

The 9/11 Wars, by Jason Burke Penguin £12.99

The al-Qa'ida attacks of September 2001 prompted 10 years of conflict that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Journalist Jason Burke's The 9/11 Wars is a superb account of that violent decade.

Adopting both top-down and bottom-up perspectives, Burke traces broad socio-political trends, and also pays attention to the messy details of life on the ground. He shows, for example, how the American decision to postpone democratic elections in Iraq fostered militancy, even among those who initially supported the invasion.

In his introduction, Burke relates a fellow reporter's opinion that only a work of fiction "could really make sense of what was happening". Indeed, that is what this book resembles: a vast, gory, surreal novel. The tragedy, of course, is that it is all true.

The Roundabout Man, by Clare Morrall Sceptre £8.99

At the centre of Clare Morrall's quirky novel is a recluse named Quinn Smith. Quinn's late mother, Larissa, was a famous children's author, and he appeared as a character in her much-loved books. Now in his sixties, he lives in a caravan on a roundabout, and survives on leftovers scrounged from a service station café.

Quinn's narration is evasive, and the secret behind his current predicament endlessly deferred. This can be a frustrating ploy, and readers might justifiably feel that they are being led in circles, like the cars around Quinn's home.

However, Morrall's elegant prose and sensitive characterisation hold the attention, and she even locates a certain poetry in Quinn's apparently unenviable life: "I exist in the eye of the storm ... the urgency of the world whizzes past me."

The Confidant, by Hélène Grémillon Gallic Books £7.99

When literary editor Camille Werner receives a collection of anonymous letters, ostensibly documenting a series of events in occupied France, she is perplexed. They tell of a poor young artist named Annie, who agrees to carry a child for her infertile benefactor Madame M, and of the tragedy that ensues. At first, Camille takes the letters to be a work of fiction, but she slowly realises, with horror, that they reveal a truth about her own past.

Hélène Grémillon's debut novel, a prizewinner in France, is well paced, and the various narrative threads are manipulated with impressive skill. Sadly though, there are many flaws: the tone becomes off-puttingly melodramatic; Madame M morphs from nuanced character into pantomime villain; and the ending, jarringly written in free verse, fails to convince.

A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing, by Lawrence M Krauss Simon & Schuster £8.99

In this introduction to cosmology, the theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss explains how recent experimental observations have proved that it is scientifically possible for "something" to arise from "nothing", providing further evidence for the Big Bang.

Krauss' attempts to debunk religious arguments about the origins of the universe resemble those of Richard Dawkins, but lack his pedagogical skill: his writing can be dense, and he often resorts to exclamation marks, as if such emphasis alone will clarify his position. Nevertheless, he shows that science has an answer to what is often regarded as a theological question – and that's certainly not nothing.

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little