Saturday 07 February 1998
There can be few more discouraging sub-titles than "understanding the real threat of the new pandemic plagues". In fact, Ryan's authoritative exploration of these growing global nasties is addictively readable. Though Ebola and Lassa fever are (at present) safely distant and contained, Ryan notes that 1994 saw outbreaks of scarlet fever, bubonic plague and cholera in Britain. On the bright side, for a bug to wipe out humanity, it would have to kill everyone infected (rare but not unknown) and be spread by respiratory transmission. As Ryan cheerily notes, "another pandemic of influenza is now overdue".
Vaporetto by Robert Giraldi (Sceptre, pounds 10)
Before leaving for Venice on a new posting, Washington FX trader Jack Squire decides to have his cat put down. But it's a decision that haunts him long after he arrives at his five-star hotel on the Grand Canal. Unable to sleep, he takes to wandering the streets where he makes the acquaintance of fellow insomniac Caterina Vendramin - a woman in a long, black cloak with eyes scarily similar to those of the aforementioned cat. Some creepy moments, but Daphne du Maurier and Ian McEwan have been there before, and better.
On Love by Jacob Needleham (Penguin Arkana, pounds 6.99)
Nice timing by Penguin's mystical department to issue this slender volume for Valentine's Day, but it is hard to imagine many lovebirds being transported by the vaporous musings of a San Francisco philosophy prof: "Who has not been humbled by love, its joys and its sorrows?" "When we are with each other, it can seem that we have no past and future, that there is no such thing as time and its limitations." Weirdly, Needleham sets great store by the poetry of a 13th-century Persian called Rumi who appears to think that love is like a cup of tea: "Dissolver of sugar, dissolve me, if this is the time." Stirring stuff, but better, stick to Bolly on the 14th.
White Mischief by James Fox (Vintage, pounds 7.99)
An incidental pleasure of this real-life whodunit are the asides about life in Kenya's Happy Valley in the Forties: "She would be quite open about it, digging the [morphine] needle into herself while we drank whisky"; "cut her in half, you'd find mostly gin". A prime mover in this torrid stew was Earl Erroll, found murdered in 1941. Chief suspect Sir Jock Delves Broughton (who could invent a better name?) was acquitted but killed himself in Liverpool's Adelphi Hotel. Fox's obsession, ignited by Cyril Connolly, resulted in a classic - but it should have been updated since 1981.
Rules of the Game/Beyond the Pale by Nicholas Mosley (Pimlico, pounds 14)
Compared by many reviewers to Gosse's literary patricide Father and Son, Mosley's epic portrait of his father is something of an exorcism. The public life is intriguing enough - fishing trips with FDR, secret funds from Mussolini - but it is the private man who fascinates. As a child, Nicholas perceived the protean nature of his father, "suddenly switching from being the benign joker to roaring, as if he were being strangled, when not getting what he wanted." He also remarks on "the vacuum" which lay at the heart of the Blackshirt leader. Told in simple, unvarnished language, this book is an attack on the bombast of politicians.
The Partner by John Grisham (Arrow, pounds 5.99)
The Biloxi law firm, Brogan, Rapley, Vitrano, Havarac and Lanigan is in trouble. With $90m missing from its offshore bank account, the firm's senior partner, Mr Rapley, has taken to sitting in a darkened attic in his underpants, while three of the others have turned to the bottle. So when FBI agent Joshua Cutter discovers that the man responsible for the theft is none other than insider Patrick Lanigan, the partners have some serious business to settle. Perhaps Grisham's next blockbuster will be set in Arkansas.
The Architect of Desire by Susannah Lessard (Phoenix, pounds 6.99)
In 1906, Stanford White, the architect of Madison Square Garden and Washington Square Arch, was shot in the face three times. In this beautifully written memoir, Stanford White's great-granddaughter, New Yorker journalist Susannah Lessard, pieces together the mystery surrounding the great man's death and muses on her own childhood on the family estate at Box Hill - a "family architecture" that still shapes her life today. High society at its most compelling.
Ink and watercolour drawing of the Australian Grasstree and a weaselish-looking Eastern Grey kangaroo by George Raper (1789). In Images From Nature (The Natural History Museum, pounds 13), the catalogue of an exhibition to be held at Christie's in London from 9 to 20 February
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