Books: Paperbacks

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Blue Period

by Nicholas Whittaker

(Indigo, pounds 5.99)

So now we know where trainspotters go when they've logged their last loco. This unbuttoned account of life in the soft-porn biz follows on from Platform Souls, Whittaker's memoir of his anorak years. Starting out as letters editor of Fiesta, he became a stalwart in the world of one-handed reading, including Knave, Club and Razzle. Unfortunately, his recollections of fruity pranks and seedy participants turn out to be as predictable as the genre. Though Whittaker is a deft wordsmith, the titillation trade lacks the sophisticated wit of trainspotters. As Mayfair's critique points out: "A bit of a busman's holiday for us."

Women with Men by Richard Ford (Harvill, pounds 6.99)

Less sentimental than his novel Independence Day, Richard Ford's latest book - three stories on the subject of middle-aged panic - tells what happens when Americans look to Europe as a way out of small-town lives. In one story, a professor turned novelist takes his new lady friend to Paris, only to be snubbed by his French publisher; in another, a Chicago businessman starts an affair with a mysterious Parisienne. Bad hotel rooms, bad food and desultory sex - Americans in Paris have never been so miserable.

I'll Stand By You: the letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland (Pimlico, pounds 15)

"My love, my tremblings, my hurrying heart's blood." From the first missives between the two lesbians, who sustained a correspondence for almost 40 years (even writing when under the same roof), it is hard to avoid the feeling of being a voyeur. But Warner wanted them published, appending notes ("She gathered me up in an embrace to lie beside her") after the death of her partner. Though the purple prose is cloying, Warner turns spikey when Ackland takes a lover ("a giant toadstool, distilling a cold venom"). Observant, gossipy, overly precious (Ackland protests that a poet like Warner should be excused war duty), this collection is a minor treasure.

Are You Experienced? by William Sutcliffe (Penguin, pounds 5.99)

Even if your own "year off" took place 15 years ago, William Sutcliffe's hilarious Gen X satire shows nothing much has changed. Liz wants to go to India to hug beggars, Dave wants to go to India to hug Liz. Bursting with realistic scenes and dialogue, Sutcliffe's assured second novel explores why so many 17-year-olds from Wimbledon and Hampstead want to leave their freezer- fuls of Waitrose Chicken Makhani and shelves of quilted loo paper for the uncharted delights of the subcontinent.

Journey into Darkness by John Douglas (Arrow, pounds 6.99)

The title is spot on. Few darker works will be published this year. However, the book will doubtless sell by the pallet-load, since it concerns the pursuit of serial killers by "the FBI's premier profiler". Mostly, it is concerned with in-depth analyses of less prominent homicides, but Douglas concludes with his opinions on the OJ Simpson case: "None of the evidence, not a shred, suggested another theory of the case but the ex-husband of the female victim was responsible." He has sympathy for the relatives of victims, but whether an expert in this gruesome field should write a populist account remains worrying.

Slow Dance on the Fault Line by Donald Rawley (Flamingo, pounds 7.99)

We're in the edgy, neurotic

territory of Altman's Short Cuts or Tarantino's Jackie Brown in these 14 ultra-cool vignettes by an LA-based poet: a terminally ill woman murders her husband with a casual detachment; a pre-operative transsexual stops for a naked photo-shoot while en route for surgery; after acquiring a house tainted by a fatal crash, a 33-year-old virgin views a porn video of the two young victims. Pinpointing moments of transition and awareness, Rawley's prose is a model of restrained poise, though recurring motifs - he has a penchant for nicotine stains - reveal a slight straining for effect. A resonant collection.

Three Hands in the Fountain by Lindsay Davis (Arrow, pounds 5.99)

Lindsay Davis's Falco mysteries are an acquired taste. Like her six previous books in the series, her latest classical whodunit requires attention not only to detailed street plans of Imperial Rome, but to a daunting cast of Latin extras. Back in Rome after a dangerous mission to Baetica, Marcus Didio Falco is put off his drink when a severed hand pops up in a local fountain. Time to investigate the sewers.

Donovan Wylie's photograph of a young father shaving his son's head in an abandoned warehouse in east London is taken from Losing Ground (Fourth Estate, pounds 9.99), Wylie's photographic record of the lives of a group of New Age Travellers in the 1990s

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