Viva La Madness, By JJ Connolly
The Believing Brain, By Michael Shermer
Toploader, By Ed O'Loughlin
What I Don't Know About Animals, By Jenny Diski
Beyond A Joke, By Bruce Dessau

Paperback reviews of the week

Viva La Madness, By JJ Connolly
Duckworth £7.99

A convoluted tale of drug-dealing, money-laundering, faked death, IT trickery, torture, and good old-fashioned violence, Viva La Madness is a darkly comic thriller, fast-paced, full of alarms and surprises, written in Guy Ritchie geezerspeak (your home is your drum, to kill someone is to serve them, cocaine is cha-cha, and major swearwords have the status of punctuation marks). The story begins promisingly: the resolutely unnamed narrator wants to quit his Caribbean bar and return to a life of crime for one big payday so he can retire in comfort. He puts out feelers, and the noble black dude, Monty, a staunch figure on the London crime scene, comes to Barbados with a proposition and two murderous gangsters in tow, Sonny King and Roy "Twitchy" Burns. Our narrator returns to London and soon finds himself in an imbroglio involving two sets of Venezuelan mobsters, an Irish family of psychos, lots of cocaine, a priceless memory stick, and plenty of people "getting served". The story loses its intensity as it becomes ever more complicated, however; in the middle sections of the book there is way too much backstory and explanation, and too many chapters ending with lines such as: "Bridget whispers one more thing ... and leaves." What did she whisper? This sort of thing makes it impossible to believe in the narrator as a character (the absence of a name doesn't help); it's just JJ Connolly playing tricks. But there are some effective set-pieces (including a chase in an Underground tunnel) and, if Guy Ritchie hasn't optioned this yet, he certainly should.


The Believing Brain, By Michael Shermer
Robinson £9.99


Michael Shermer is a psychologist and a historian of science, and draws on both disciplines effectively in this refreshingly sceptical look at how and why we believe things. Shermer argues that we are evolutionarily hardwired to find significance in our environment; we believe first and seek for reasons afterwards, and are astonishingly good at self-deception. He deploys a wealth of evidence to show how the believing brain is operative in religion, politics, supernatural beliefs and conspiracy theories. Science, with its evidence-based approach and strict procedure of controlled, duplicable experiments, is the only rigorous way to test the truth of beliefs. Readers of Dawkins, Dennett et al. will find much that is familiar, but if you enjoy a dry, sceptical take on things – as I do – you'll enjoy reading this.


Toploader, By Ed O'Loughlin
Quercus £8.99


Toploader is a satire on the military, the media, and the war on terror, set in an unnamed controlled zone where the inhabitants are regularly shelled and bombed by drones. The plot features an explosive donkey, a washing-machine equipped with advanced military technology, and imaginary Iranian spies. Characters include the psychopathic torturer Daddy Jesus, the scheming, Bilko-esque Captain Smith, the clueless, self-important war reporter Flint Driscoll, and the heroic teenage victim of the occupation, Flora. O'Loughlin's aims are worthy, his targets apt, and his descriptions of a war zone evocative; but the story takes time to get airborne – the first five chapters all feature different sets of characters – and the dialogue is clunky. Although it's been compared to Catch 22, it lacks that novel's wit, verve and inspired lunacy.

What I Don't Know About Animals, By Jenny Diski


Part memoir, part philosophy, part ethology, What I Don't Know About Animals is an engaging meditation on animals and our relationship with them. Diski explores scientific and religious attitudes to animals, considers the ethics of eating meat (like many of us, she's uneasy about it but still does it), visits a hill farm, goes on safari, muses on representations of animals in film and television (she likes David Attenborough but not Johnny Morris), discusses the battle between reductionists and humanists, experiments with horse-riding, and conquers her arachnophobia. There is a constant tension between her sense of empathy for animals, and her acknowledgement of their fundamental, unknowable otherness. She also examines the fascinating question of why Jacques Derrida's cat used to stare at his genitals.


Beyond A Joke, By Bruce Dessau
Arrow Books £8.99


Bruce Dessau, comedy critic for the past 20 years and a regular on the Edinburgh Comedy Award panel, brings to bear his knowledge and expertise in this witty, readable study of what makes stand-up comedians tick. Dessau takes a historical perspective, stretching from Joseph Grimaldi to Russell Brand, and reveals a constant pattern of excess – excessive sexual appetites, drug and alcohol consumption, narcissism and self-obsession – inextricably linked to the drive to make roomfuls of strangers laugh. It's a pattern which takes its toll – the rollcall of comedians who died prematurely is long. Dessau knows most of the contemporary comedians he writes about, and there is an enjoyable sense of getting the inside story.

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk