Books: Paperbacks

Sotheby's

by Robert Lacey,

Warner, pounds 8.99, 354pp

AFTER RETAILING the history of the auction house a touch dutifully, Lacey's account takes off when the raffish Peter Wilson enters the company in 1939. After war service in MI5 (his number was 007), the "old twister" became public face for almost 40 years. During which time, this august institution lent its name to a cigarette brand (not a success), while the accounts dept used the Bond Street premises for orgies. In order to finance a dubious silver deal, Wilson offloaded his shares before a set of poor annual profits. As a result, spent a decade as a subsidiary of General Felt industries.

The Stillest Day

by Josephine Hart,

Vintage, pounds 5.99, 210pp

HUSBANDS AND wives don't last long in Josephine Hart novels. Nor do their poor offspring. Like her previous novels, Damage, Sin and Obsession, her latest is a highly-charged period melodrama that reeks of guilty secrets and the grave. It's clear from the start that a tragedy of Hardyesque proportions awaits country school ma'am Bethesda Barnet. Falling for her next-door neighbour (and the school's new English master), she takes to pressing her ear against his bedroom wall. Passions spill over and the repressed spinster ends up committing an unspeakable act over the tea-cups.

Modern House

by John Welsh,

Phaidon, pounds 19.95, 240pp

FORGET THE tawdry confections of the BBC's Changing Rooms; if you really want a home with a difference, this is the book to buy. Lavish colour spreads enable you imaginatively to inhabit the cutting edge of domestic architecture: a minimalist castle by John Pawson in Mallorca, an Australian beach house like a vast packing case, the "assumed disorder" of Frank Gehry's Minnesota guest house (six one-room buildings), a house in the Californian desert like an expressionist theatre set, a glass cube in Japan which forces inhabitants into "private, though unpleasantly crowded downstairs rooms". Which is chez vous?

Taking Doreen Out of the Sky

by Alan Beard,

Picador, pounds 6.99, 165pp

A WRITER of the kind of short stories tailor-made for Radio 4: Alan Beard's tales of West Midland folk are comic, sad and quietly downbeat. Hedged in by boring jobs and tatty homes, his characters take refuge in nostalgia and sex, and, failing that, the odd urban riot. Particularly good on worn-out marriages, Beard's best stories include "Dad, Mum, Paula and Tom", about a son who catches his dad sleeping with his brother's girlfriend (while his mum explores the Internet), and "Country Life", in which an expectant father takes refuge from reality in the arms of a blonde from work.

The Penguin Book of the Horse

edited by Candida Baker,

Penguin, pounds 7.99, 378pp

DESPITE SOME odd omissions (Swift, Surtees), Baker provides a lively canter round equine literature. Her choice ranges from adolescent favourites (My Friend Flicka, Black Beauty) to a scatological fragment from de Bernieres. Horses inspire literary giants in unexpected ways: roguery on the race-track from Hemingway; a fable about greed from Lawrence; a tender tragedy from Runyon. Authors as diverse as Jim Crace and M E Patchett explore the rapport between man and beast, but many readers will empathise with Carroll's White Knight. "Any bones broken?" asked Alice. "None to speak of."

Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall

by Neil Bartlett,

Serpent's Tail, pounds 6.99, 313pp

NEIL BARTLETT'S novel of gay sex in the Nineties begins and ends with Madame - an ageing cabaret artiste who brings together two of London's most desirable men with "arse-stounding" results. More than just a catalogue of choreographed erotica, Bartlett's story of "O" (the older man) and "Boy" (just 19), their courtship and eventual marriage, is told with the kind of chummy curiosity that leads the reader to suppose he is as much in on the act as the writer himself. First published in 1991; Bartlett's subsequent novels include the critically acclaimed Who Was That Man?, a meditation on Oscar Wilde.

A Gift Imprisoned

by Ian Hamilton,

Bloomsbury, pounds 7.99, 242pp

THE POETIC life of Matthew Arnold may not be the most seductive topic in the world, but Ian Hamilton is one of our most readable literary critics. In this absorbing account, he reveals that Arnold's talent flowered after the death of his starchy dad, the headmaster of Rugby. Inspired by a number of Frenchwomen, in particular the mysterious Marguerite, Matthew produced some hot stuff: "Ah, they bend nearer - Sweet lips, this way!" This emotional outpouring ceased when Arnold, in homage to his father's arid morality, returned to the straight and narrow, passing 30 years as a schools inspector. Duty sucked him dry.

Hannah's Gift

by Thomas Eidson,

Penguin, pounds 6.99, 360pp

IF YOU'RE not man enough for the novels of Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Eidson writes the B-movie version. A mystical Western set in the brush covered deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, Eidson's tale relates the story of tough, but tender, lawman Tucker Gibbens and the woman who saves his life. A recent widower, Tucker carries around his memories like a sore thumb; injured in a shoot-out, he falls for the auburn-haired beauty who miraculously brings him back to life. Apaches and ambushes and mesquite burning fires - the American West at its rootin' tootin' best.

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