THE TEMPTRESS The Scandalous Life of Alice, Countess de Janze
THEY were a rum lot, those privileged, self-indulgent denizens of Kenya's so-called "Happy Valley".
From the 20s to the 40s they shocked, scandalised and entertained their fellow countrymen back in England, who followed their exploits with great curiosity, together with no small amount of envy.
One of the most outrageous of them all (and there was some serious competition) was the beautiful but highly-dangerous Alice, Countess de Janze.
American-born Alice arrived in Kenya in the early 1920s by way of France, where she had married into the aristocracy.
To say she was unbalanced would be an understatement. While in France she shot one of her lovers in the chest (he survived) before shooting herself in the stomach. She abandoned her children in Paris to pursue her hedonistic lifestyle, kept a pet crocodile in the bath and enjoyed wild sex games.
Needless to say, once in Kenya she fitted perfectly into Happy Valley society.
Paul Spicer enjoys himself hugely in bringing Alice and her companions riotously to life. Some of the escapades they got up to will cause even the most most broad-minded of readers to raise an eyebrow, and certainly cannot be repeated in a family newspaper.
But that, however, is not his main intent.
Instead, he wishes to focus on the unsolved murder in January 1941 of Josslyn Hay, the Earl of Erroll, who was Alice's friend and lover. He was shot dead at the wheel of his car, and although Alice fell under suspicion, a hopelessly inept police investigation helped ensure she was never charged.
Spicer is convinced it was Alice who pulled the trigger, although the evidence upon which he bases this conclusion is by no means as convincing as he clearly believes it to be.
His efforts in this respect do, however, seem to be somewhat redundant, in view of the fact that later that year Alice again attempted to shoot herself dead.
This time, she was successful.
SIMON & SCHUSTER, 14.99
It struck Bill Bryson one day that we devote a lot more time to the Wars of the Roses or the Normandy Landings than considering what most of history really consists of: centuries upon centuries of people quietly going about their daily business.
So he started a journey around his house, an old rectory in Norfolk, wandering from room to room considering how the ordinary things in life came to be. Along the way are delightful digressions on the history of everything from architecture to epidemics.
And to his dismay, he also encountered a terrifying variety of dangers to our health and happiness.
At Home is an inwards look at all human life through a domestic telescope. Because, as Bryson says, our homes aren't refuges from history. They are where history begins and ends.
Review by Waterstone's
HONOUR AND THE SWORD
FORMER EastEnders producer Louise Berridge makes an impressively confident debut in the world of fiction with this highly-readable historical story.
Set in early 17th century France at the height of the Thirty Years War, it focuses on the adventures of the young Andre de Roland.
Spanish troops are swarming out of the Netherlands and into the France of Louis XIII. They converge on the quiet border village of Dax-en-roi, where Roland's father is Lord of the Manor.
But his troops are no match for the Spanish, and Roland finds himself the sole survivor of the massacre of his household – and the new Sieur of Dax.
As Roland slowly marshals a small force of resistance, Berridge plunges them into a series of dramatic actions, which are considerably enhanced by her impressive depth of historical knowledge.
MICHAEL JOSEPH, 12.99
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet
Imagine an empire that has shut out the world for a century and a half. No one can leave, foreigners are excluded, their religions banned and their ideas deeply mistrusted.
Yet a narrow window on to this nation-fortress still exists: an artificial walled island connected to a mainland port, and manned by a handful of European traders.
The nation was Japan, the port was Nagasaki and the island was Dejima, to where David Mitchell's panoramic novel transports us in the year 1799. For one Dutch clerk, Jacob de Zoet, a dark adventure of duplicity, love, guilt, faith and murder is about to begin, and all the while the axis of global power is turning.
Review by Waterstone's
Fall of a sporting scapegoat
Harold Larwood is an England cricketing legend. During the MCC's notorious 1932-3 Ashes tour of Australia, his 'Bodyline' bowling left Australia's batsmen bruised and battered, halved the batting average of the great Don Bradman – and gave England a 4-1 series victory.
But the diplomatic row that followed brought Anglo-Australian relations to the brink of collapse. Larwood was used as a scapegoat by the MCC, which demanded he apologise for bowling Bodyline.
Arguing that he had simply obeyed the instructions of his captain, Douglas Jardine, Larwood refused. He never played for England again. The Bodyline saga has been told before, but Larwood's story has not. Using materials provided by the fast bowler's family, Duncan Hamilton has created an intimate and compelling portrait of Larwood's life: from his mining village upbringing, through the trauma of 1932-3 and its bitter aftermath, to his emigration to Australia, where he and his family found happiness.
A moving recreation of the triumph, betrayal and redemption of a working-class hero.
Quercus Publishing , 8.99
Sharon Marshall was a tabloid reporter for ten years. Along the way she saw and did some Very Bad Things. She also had a spectacularly lousy love life. It took the entire decade to realise the two may be connected.
In her hilariously honest memoirs she reveals what really goes on behind the scenes at a major tabloid newspaper. What lengths will a tabloid hack go to, just to get the story? What do celebrities (secretly) do to get into the headlines? And can a job which involves fighting with popstars, pretending to be a swinger and provoking a fuming Jeremy Paxman ever make you marriage material?
It is 1913 and ex-soldier turned professional big game hunter, Leon Courtney, is in British East Africa guiding rich men from America and Europe on safaris in the Masai tribe territories. One of his clients, German industrialist Count Otto von Meerbach, has a company which builds aircraft and vehicles for the Kaiser's burgeoning army. But Leon had not bargained for falling passionately in love with Eva, the Count's beautiful and enigmatic mistress.