! Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding, Picador pounds 5.99. Mass communications have sent two subjects - celebrity and Third World hunger - up the agenda with equal force. But they exist in such different moral categories that to fuse them - as Geldof successfully did in the 1980s - can sometimes look like selling compassion as fashion. In Fielding's satire of this ambivalent moral landscape, Rosie's love affair with a TV arts-show host has (on his part) all the commitment of a sound-bite. She goes to Africa as an aid worker, but when famine strikes Rosie's best (if most unlikely) asset is her erstwhile familiarity with stars. This excellent first novel faces up to the moral bankruptcy of much "popular culture" while pulling off the difficult trick of moving you and making you laugh at the same time.
! In Search of Churchill by Martin Gilbert, HarperCollins pounds 7.99. This pendant to the 17 volumes of Churchill biography-with-documents, and the 35 years Gilbert gave up to them, is relaxed, graceful and lively. He pays handsome tribute to his living sources, many first contacted through small ads. The most telling and touching are the unknowns - secretaries who took Churchill's relentless dictation, soldiers who fought under him in the WWI trenches, civil servants who slipped him secrets in the Wilderness Years. There is also an unusually affectionate portrait of Randolph, for whom Gilbert worked on the first two volumes of his father's Life.
! Crime Without Frontiers: The Worldwide Expansion of Organised Crime and the Pax Mafiosa by Claire Sterling, Little Brown pounds 6.99. When the Five Families formed a joint arbitration body for their disputes it was the end of the FBI's divide-and-rule tactic and a sign that the Mob were, as ever, one step ahead. Now, as Sterling's book shows, we have a Mafia United Nations. In Warsaw 1991, Prague 1992 and Berlin 1993, summits were held between the Sicilian/American and the Russian mafias; criminal confabs are regularly held between permutations of Yakuza, Triads, Cosa Nostra, Medellin Cartels and Russian Mob. The latter are the most instructive. If "a well-connected foreigner can buy a ton of crude petroleum in Russia for the equivalent of $5 in roubles and sell it for $140 in Western Europe", what follows is inevitable: money laundering. The attempt by a Sicilian Mafia boss to buy up all the roubles in circulation shows how the former USSR has turned into a gigantic financial washing machine. Citizens of the collapsing Roman Empire waited at their gates for the hairy goths, but in the USSR they were already within. Now they're breaking out.
! Closing Time by Joseph Heller, Pocket Books pounds 5.99. Heller's long-delayed sequel to Catch-22 features both hero and villain from the earlier story, now grown old and rich. Yossarian, at 68, is a PR executive working on his second divorce. He's also working on the account of Milo Minderbender's arms-trading corporation, an outfit faithful to the tradition of Milo's ruthless black marketeering. The action is mostly confined to Manhattan, which is in every sense a long haul from the airbase island of Pianosa. Catch-22 is about that sense of absurdity which only the imminence of violent death can provide. Closing Time is an old man's book, wry, reminiscing, sentimental. And, while death again looms, it's only a plastic bucket these snowy-haired men will be kicking, not a steel-cased anti-aircraft shell.
! Deep River by Shusaku Endo, trs Van C Gessel, Sceptre pounds 5.99. The Catholic- Japanese Endo is more accessible than many other Eastern writers. Once you're used to the awkwardness of a difficult translation job (for a start, Japanese social relations don't transfer into English), his viewpoint is unusually easy for us to grasp. This compact, complex novel is about a party of Japanese tourists in India. They all have their own reasons for going to the Ganges, the river of the title, but in each case there's a connection with Endo's perennial concerns: to fill emptiness with belief, to find the meaning of pain.Reuse content