PAPERBACKS

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Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, Bloomsbury pounds 5.99.

When a novelist calls a place Amity you can look forward to a deal of feudin' and fightin'.

Amity Harbour is an island fishing town in the north Pacific, where the slow-burning distrust be tween those of Scandinavian and Japanese origin climaxes in the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto for murdering fellow fisherman Carl Heine at sea. This debut novel's huge success relies on traditional ingredients: a community at odds with itself; sympathetic, believable characters; well-plotted courtroom suspense.

Comparison with To Kill A Mockingbird is inevitable; this book lacks only the intangible magic that classic.

A Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thomson, Andre Deutsch pounds 14.99.

This is not really a dictionary at all, but an absorbing collection of essays - some thumbnail, most short, a few considerable, on everyone from Adjani to Zukor. Forget objectivity, this is a "personal, opinionated and obsessive" work.

Thomson - a regular contributor to this paper - is quite ready to knock chips off the temple statues. Billy Wilder was "a heartless exploiter of public taste", Fellini "an obsessional, vacuous poseur", John Ford "fraudulent". That's all good fun, but time and again the judgements are really useful - on Paul Newman's "aversion to intimacy", on Kirk and Michael Douglas, on Peckinpah (he "looked to see, whereas Ford looked to discover what he al ready knew") or on Leone (who really "despised the West"). Essential.

History: The Home Movie by Craig Raine, Penguin pounds 6.99.

Raine's attempt to combine the elusive, allusive shorthand of contemporary verse and the narrative span of a saga novel is certainly daring. .

From the first line ("Pince-nez like the letter g") we have Raine's trademark martian imagery but there is un-Martian emotion and engagement too in this fluent sequence of 87 poems.

Written in terse unrhymed stanzas, they loosely tell the stories of two poets' families - the Pasternaks of Moscow and the Raines of Oxford - and always to the fore is the impression of 20th-century European history spooling through a projector with the random, jump-cutting of amateur cine.

Capone: The Man and the Era by Laurence Bergreen, Pan pounds 8.99.

"I have never written about a man who differed so sharply from his reputation".

Larry, you mean Capone wasn't a gangster, pimp, bootlegger and murderer? No, just that he was the product of a hypocritical and corrupt society. He was a scapegoat, a victim himself .

In one way, Big Al was a benefactor. He employed a lot of people and the way he took over the running of Cicero, Illinois and gave the place new roads was actually beneficial.

I thought he did it so he could open brothels and bent casinos and murder people? Sure, but that was politics back then. I could introduce you to people who remember Al with affection. Think I'll take a rain-check there, Larry.

Nelson: A Personal History by Christopher Hibbert, Penguin pounds 8.99.

The meat of this biography is mostly of two kinds: naval adventures and Lady Hamilton. Hibbert's Nelson is a man whose personal courage and decisiveness in battle vie with less attractive traits - snobbery, conceit, adultery, inordinate fondness for honours. Overall, the balance of judgement in these pages is against.

A miserable sod the man can be, always complaining how he's mistreated, whilst turning that blind eye to his own cru elty towards others - notably Lady Nelson.

The latest in a long line of his biographers shows little desire to reinterpret the hero for our age, but he gives his usual good read.

Writing Home by Alan Bennett, Faber pounds 7.99.

The most tantalising inclusion among these occasional writings are the journal extracts. They are rather thin, averaging only two or three entries a month from 1980-90 while other bits do detached duty, such as the story of 'The Lady in the Van' or of the filming of various Bennett scripts. But the dry humour and good sense of the observations - whether from the window, while travelling or on television - are so entertaining that Bennett leaves you hungry for the whole diary in full Pepysian extension.

Is this fragmentary release of Bennett's diary an appetiser, a nibble before dinner? If so, it works.

Who Was David Weiser? by Pawel Huelle, Bloomsbury pounds 5.99.

A Polish boy looks back, with hints of allegory, to the life of his mysterious friend David Weiser - a figure at once remote and charming, with magical powers and inscrutable motives. Le Grand Meaulnes springs to mind as one antecedant and Huelle's first novel, set in Poland in the mid 50s and beautifully translated by Antonia Lloyd-White, can stand in that company.

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