Shelf Life

2 Wilbur Smith goes po-mo? In The Seventh Scroll (Macmillan £15.99) the writer makes an appearance, Martin Amis-style, in his own book. When her husband, Duraid, is murdered while researching an as-yet-undiscovered Pharaonic tomb, Anglo-Egyptian beauty Royan Al Simma enlists the help of the archetypal Smith hero: rich, fit, wordly, and seriously into guns. Sir Nicholas Quenton-Harper is a rabid collector of antiquities whose wife and kiddies have conveniently been killed in a car-crash. During their first interview, the duo discuss the writer's previous Egypt-themed novel, River God. "I read most of Wilbur Smith's stuff. He amuses me. He has shot here at Quenton Park a couple of times," says burly Sir Nick, to which Rohan replies witheringly: "You like lots of sex and violence in your reading, obviously?" Later she pulls out a photo: " 'You recognise the two men standing behind the bench?' He nodded. 'Duraid and Wilbur Smith.' " The two adventurers set off to find the tomb before the bad guys do, Royan to avenge her husband, Nicholas to get his mitts on the grave goods and make up for his Lloyd's losses. A desert sandstorm couldn't get pages turning quicker than Smith.

2 Lloyd's losses become a possible motive for murder in Anne Fleming's Death and Deconstruction (Hale £15.99), where someone is out to maim members of the Romantic Poets Society. The novel begins promisingly in the lagoon at Venice, where a bizarre gondola incident nearly scuppers the Byron and Shelley tour of Italy. Sadly, we leave Venice all too soon (Fleming isn't really up to it) and return to the more familiar territory of London's clubs and libraries. Much of the novel is taken up with an imaginary conference where radical feminists and Marxist deconstructionists clash with the genteel RPS. Could academic jealousies run to murder? Fleming has fun with this theme but the novel is marred by the common crime-writer delusion that their sleuths (in this case Detective John Charter) are media personalities: "Chatty Charter Hunts a Hoaxer: Sardonic Super Rubs Shoulders with Eggheads" runs one deeply implausible heading.

2 Tired of ignorant, complacent, twentysomething female rockers slagging off feminism? The interviewees in Karen O'Brien's excruciatingly titled Hymn to Her: Women Musicians Talk (Virago £9.99) know better. They're not just rock-chicks: Velvets drummer Moe Tucker jostles alongside jazz composer Carla Bley, vocal experimenter Sheila Chandra, "Afro-funk diva" Angelique Kidjo from Benin, Tanita Tikaram and the uncategorisable Yoko Ono (above). They come from every musical and social background, and it makes for an exhilarating mix. Tucker recalls feeling shy but welcomed at Andy Warhol's factory; Chandra muses on the status of women in world music; Kirsty MacColl frets about being the daughter of famous folk-singer Ewan. The collection inevitably tackles racism and sexism, but without ever being pious or PC: "It's up to each individual woman to set herself apart from the hookers, the sluts and the bitches of the world," says rapper Monie Love, bracingly.

2 The lure of the Bunyip or debil-debil, and the eerie cry "Coo-ee" echoing through the bush feature in The Oxford Book of Australian Ghost Stories (£18.99). Beginning with an account of an authenticated Australian ghost, that of John Fisher, whose apparition led to a neighbour being executed for his murder, the collection shows how the genre was imported from the old world, and enriched by the eerie beliefs of the Aboriginals. Ken Gelder's introduction points out the links between settlement and the unsettling, and if the tales are frequently gruesome, they are also powerful and unfamiliar.

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