Labyrinth of suspicion

BOOK OF THE WEEK

A Sickness In The Family

Denise Mina and art by Antonio Fuso

****

NO-ONE'S family is perfect: this is the key theme that makes Denise Mina's thriller so hard to put down.

When the outwardly perfect Usher family sat down for a rather awkward Christmas dinner, they had no idea it would be their last.

Following the mysterious murder of a neighbour, three generations of the household are individually picked off, and suggestions of a paranormal presence begin to grow.

One by one their darkest secrets emerge, revealing enough dysfunctional behaviour to keep Jeremy Kyle busy for years.

Mina's devotion to detail creates a labyrinth of suspicion, with enough standout shocks to keep genre-purists more than happy. The choice of narrator is also a wonderfully subtle device that keeps readers guessing all the way through.

Antonio Fuso's artwork is a little inconsistent, but his minimalist style is a great vessel for Mina's rich storytelling. Draining the panels of colour was also a wise choice, as the black and grey palette perfectly encapsulates the morbid tale.

Titan Books Limited, 14.99

THE SPOT

DAVID MEANS

***

In The Spot, natural-born storyteller David Means offers another bunch of tales which aim to chart America's gritty, contemporary landscapes.

Pimps, junkies, lowlifes, madmen and old geezers all make an appearance in his fourth book of short stories.

The collection offers a half humorous, half scary, Cohen brothers-esque portrait of a culture at the crossroads.

Although the stories share this common thread, each tale is told in a variety of different styles.

Some are intensely uncomfortable, such as the stream of consciousness rant of The Knocking, which sees a recently separated man ponder his loneliness to a background cacophony of noises made by his upstairs neighbour.

Doom

Others are more direct and less personal, like Nebraska, about a trio of young bank robbers on a Bruce Springsteen-style mission of romance and doom.

These 13 stories show a writer coming into his own and who deserves a wide readership.

Faber and Faber, 10

FROM BLOOD

EDWARD WRIGHT

****

The fifth offering from American novelist Edward Wright is a fast-paced and intriguing tale of deceit, danger and conspiracy.

Shannon Fairchild, a rebellious young woman whose life has gone off track, is forced to cope with a series of tragedies, starting with the torture and murder of her mother and father.

As she delves into her parents' past in an attempt to uncover the reasons for their demise, Shannon makes a number of astonishing discoveries linked to her own upbringing.

It is not long before she realises that she too is at risk, along with those closest to her, and the action comes thick and fast as she attempts to prevent further lives from being lost.

A gripping and thoroughly enjoyable read.

ORION, 12.99

Celebrating Lennon's legacy

Non-fiction

Box Of Vision

JOHN LENNON

****

Former Beatle John Lennon would have been 70 in October. Box Of Vision, a limited edition collection created by Jonathan Polk, is one of the more unusual products released to commemorate this anniversary.

These sets are beautifully packaged in a canvas box and contain two LP record-sized books as well as a unique CD storage system to store all of Lennon's official CD releases.

The first book contains stunning newly restored artwork from John's post-Beatle career. Previously, most of this artwork was presented in poster format, booklets and gatefold sleeves, so it's a treat to see everything together in one large book.

Highlights are the controversial naked photos for Two Virgins; artwork for the Wedding Album, now laid out like a conventional photo album; the quirky 1970 calendar for Live Peace In Toronto; and the alternative covers for Walls And Bridges.

The second book is The Catalography, a full colour discography of the Lennon albums, with rare photos, album advertisements and handwritten notes from John.

This collection is not cheap, but it's obvious that a lot of time and effort had gone into creating something different and practical for the Lennon fan who has everything. It would be an ideal gift to give (or to receive!).

Box Of Vision, 99, Available at www.boxofvision.com/johnlennon

Passport To Peking: A Very British Mission To Mao's China

Patrick Wright

****

In his intensely researched and comical book, Patrick Wright tells the true story of a British delegation travelling to China in 1954.

His story carries us with them through the USSR and Mongolia and into the new communist China of Chairman Mao. We see the birth of modern China through the experiences of some of its first western tourists.

The troupe of travellers is made up of former prime minister Clement Attlee and a number of other quintessentially British scientists, artists and philosophers, many of whom are still well known.

The sheer factual content of the book is impressive as Wright uses previously unpublished letters and diaries to punctuate his narrative.

However, the text is never too dry and the personal views of these educated representatives provide comedy and history in equal measure. As the characters develop we see the international landscape of the 1950s through their eyes with thought-provoking and humorous results.

Oxford University Press, 20

Born Brilliant – The Life Of Kenneth Williams

Christopher Stevens

****

The inner torments, compulsions and often appalling behaviour of one of Britain's best-loved comic actors are laid bare in this excellent biography.

Kenneth Williams (1926-1988) was a talented working-class London boy who always remained emotionally tied to his doting mother. He suffered from an alarming range of complexes and neuroses.

A short, effeminate figure, his trademark was a voice like a trumpet, an exaggeratedly posh accent and an extremely camp demeanour.

Although he achieved some stage success, he did better on radio and television chat shows. His temperamental, bossy nature made him difficult to work with or befriend.

He is best remembered for his leading roles in the bawdy Carry On films, which still run on television. They have kept his memory and popularity alive.

Christopher Stevens has used new, unpublished material from Williams's voluminous personal diaries. We get a fascinating insight into the mind of an intelligent gay actor who, paradoxically, flaunted his homosexuality yet inwardly never came to terms with it.

John Murray, 25

Conversations With Myself

Nelson Mandela

****

This is a truly rare insight into the mind of Nelson Mandela.

Combining snippets of conversation, hastily written notes, musing diary entries and letters to loved ones, the book illuminates the anti-apartheid campaigner's 27 years in prison.

It is not written chronologically; instead, we have doodlings from Mandela on one page followed by transcripts of chats with Richard Stengel, who ghosted his autobiography Long Walk To Freedom.

Mandela talks of the cell as being an "ideal place to learn to know yourself". In this book, we get to understand the human behind the freedom fighter, who loves his family and writes to them often in beautiful swirly handwriting.

Macmillan, 25

EP 11/12/10

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