Books: Paperbacks

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The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh edited by Charlotte Mosley (Sceptre, pounds 8.99)

Any new material by the Master is to be cherished and forty per cent of his contributions to this impeccably edited volume have never been previously published. Though they rarely touch the heights of inspired fantasy which made Waugh's Collected Letters such a treasure, this is one of the most enjoyable volumes you willl encounter this year. Nancy Mitford acts as a breezy counterweight to his misanthropy, though her own misfortunes certainly outweighed his. Mitford's brittle jollity ("Blissikins!") can be a trifle emetic, but, of course, we are eavesdropping.

Santa Evita by Toms Eloy Martnez, trans. Helen Lane (Anchor, pounds 6.99)

When Evita Peron died, 18,000 wreaths of flowers were placed around her bier; half a million people kissed the coffin, and one and half million yellow roses were thrown at the gun carriage which carried her body through the avenues of Buenos Aires.

Even without its uncanny topicality, Martnez's fictional account of the dying days of Eva Peron and her incipient sainthood resonates with intelligence and compellingly macabre detail. The best lines in the book go to Evita's hairdresser, the man who crowned the posthumous queen with her trademark chignon of lustrous gold.

Danziger's Britain: a

journey to the edge by Nick Danziger (Flamingo, pounds 7.99)

From the introduction, where Danziger tries to track down his stolen lap-top in a Brixton estate, to the finale in Belfast, where we are treated to a menu of punishment beatings ("two-packs are knees, four-packs are knees and elbows... "), this book is an all-but-unrelenting catalogue of misery, dysfunction and squalidity. A brief interlude in the Scottish highlands provides a fleeting ray of hope, but soon we're back in the drug-soaked slums of Glasgow. Danziger's surprisingly joyful photographs are superb, but his workmanlike prose is a scourge. A vital, if deeply depressing tour d'horizon.

Big Girls Don't Cry by Connie Briscoe (HarperCollins, pounds 6.99)

Until her brother is killed in a car accident en route to a civil rights demonstration, the outside world hasn't impinged much on Naomi Jefferson. More interested in straightening her hair and getting to see Rosemary's Baby, her life is no different from that of her white school friends. But her brother's death, college politics and a job with the DC city

council soon wake her up to the realities of growing up black in America. Sex, seriousness and a little sadness make this over-long novel a goodie for teenage girls.

For the Fear of Angels by Charles Pickstone (Sceptre, pounds 7.99)

An Anglican priest who concludes that "if sex is real, like good religion, it can give access to another world" sounds ripe for tabloid revelation. But Pickstone's study into how sex has usurped religion is intelligent and subtle, though his priapic enthusiasm is slightly spooky. On a journey from The Water Babies to The Story of O, he cites a host of parallels between theology and sexuality. Intercourse is "the ultimate sacrament", while porn enables "the transcendent to be glimpsed through transgression". Taking a text from St Paul for his title, Pickstone is a heretical moralist.

A World of Their Own Making by John R Gillis (Oxford, pounds 8.99)

Prompted by the death of his son, Gillis's exploration of myth and ritual in family life over the centuries is crammed with revelations. He demolishes cherished beliefs about how families functioned in the past and the importance of home. Until the 19th century, both men and women "spent much of their lives in public places". Dispersion of kin and poor transportation meant that few people died surrounded by families. Similarly, "we exaggerate the frequency with which families ate together". There is no template, Gillis insists, but family cultures must be "diverse, fluid and unresolved".

Cos Fan Tutti by Michael Dibdin (Faber, pounds 5.99)

A bottle of mineral water, freshly baked pastries and a cappuccino scuro appear magically on Aurelio Zen's desk each morning. Recently demoted to the Naples office, this is just one of the pay-offs for turning a blind eye to some of the more lucrative activities of his newly acquired staff. But in Italy the status quo doesn't last long, and when a midnight scuffle between sailors turns into an international incident, Zen can't keep avoiding work forever. A consumate performance, Dibdin's fifth novel in the Zen series features maritime shenanigans, missing mafiosi and an operatic sub-plot, while the smell of bad drains and espresso rises seductively off the page.

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