Lost by Lucy Wadham | The Book of Numbers by William Hartston | The Year 1000 by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger

Saturday 15 April 2000 00:00 BST

Lost by Lucy Wadham (Faber, £9.99, 315pp) Coco Santini, the bad guy of Lucy Wadham's Mafioso-style thriller drives a Saab - a car from another Europe "where people wore seat belts and only rarely killed each other" - and keeps an arms cache under his swimming pool. Like his fellow islanders (inhabitants of a rocky outcrop in the Med) he speaks French but looks Italian, and likes his wife in a housecoat and his mistress in Lycra.

From the start it's clear that Coco's island is no paradise - and though as much as the islanders hate each other, they hate outsiders even more. Watched by a small time hood, Mickey da Cruz, a young English widow with two children arrives on the island and makes her way to Santarosa, her husband's childhood home. Within hours of checking into the local hotel, Alice's son Sam disappears.

As dramatic narratives go, the search for a missing child, is one of the more chilling and Wadham's narrative powers don't disapppoint. Alice's search around Santarosa's back streets is every bit as awful as Ian McEwan's supermarket version of the same event. No one will spill the beans on the missing child, and it's left to Antoine Stuart, an unpopular detective, to find him. Motivated by an obsessive desire to nail the crime on Coco, and later by his growing interest in Alice, Stuart rouses himself for a show down.

More than just a roman policier, Wadham's accomplished debut is strengthened by an absorbing cast of minor characters and its distinctive southern setting. EH

The Book of Numbers by William Hartston (Metro, £9.99, 312pp) Think of a number. How about 23? The number of camels an Arab offered for Diana Dors; 65? Hairs shed daily by an average person; 87? Though Hartson is drawn to the obscure, his haul of numerical associations is irresistible. But this obsessive fact-hunter makes a bloomer on page one. Under "Zero", Hartston ascribes the phrase "I got plenty of nuttin'" to George Gershwin - his brother Ira was the wordsmith.

The Year 1000 by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger (Abacus, £5.99, 230pp) Stuffed with detail, this slim work brings the first year of the last millennium vividly to life. The population was as tall as today and July was the cruellest month (bread prices soared before the harvest). The authors apply their similes with variable success. It is fine to say "the sign of the cross was the antiseptic of the year 1000", but describing the poem "Battle of Maldon" as the era's Top of the Pops is trying too hard.

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