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The Independent Culture
Black Dogs by Ian McEwan, Picador pounds 4.99. An oddly shocking book for McEwan to have written, because the shocks are so few. At the centre is the relationship between leftist, rationalist Bernard and spiritual June, as reconstructed by the son-in-law narrator. What unfolds is a tale of competing belief systems which takes us to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and back to a dramatic post-war encounter with the black dogs of the title. At last McEwan can shed his 'laureate of nastiness' label.

Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Rider pounds 9.99. After Robert Bly's Wild Man, it's the turn of women to discover the savage, primal, liberating self within. The myths and legends assembled and interpreted by the psychoanalyst-author are intended as 'medicine' for the repressed, 'markers along the path', emboldening women to laugh, sing and 'infiltrate the psychic lands that once belonged to us.' A howling success in the US.

Murder on Ward Four by Nick Davies, Chatto pounds 9.99 and Angel of Death by John Askill & Martyn Sharpe, Michael O'Mara pounds 5.99. These two instant books on the Nurse Beverley Allitt affair also raise instant doubts: can we bear to read any more? and isn't this publishing opportunism? But at least the first, written over two years with the co-operation of the bereaved parents, is a sober study, with lessons for us all about hospitals, secrecy and power.

The Stork Club by Maureen Freely, Bloomsbury pounds 5.99. The narrator is male, setting down his confession in order to understand why his marriage went wrong. It sounds earnest, but this is a buoyant comic novel about the sex war, load-sharing and childcare in California - with a narrator we warm to but also distrust.

Philosophy for Beginners by Richard Osborne, Writers and Readers pounds 6.99. A comic-book format combined with academic accuracy makes this a witty and accessible guide to the evolution of ideas over 2,500 years, from the early Greek philosophers to 20th- century Post-Structuralist debates in the pub. One of a series with more than 30 titles elucidating everything from Islam to erotica.