The best recent crime and thrillers – review roundup

This post is by Laura Wilson from Books | The Guardian

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The Last by Hanna Jameson; To Kill the Truth by Sam Bourne; The Lost Man by Jane Harper; Flowers Over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti; The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides; and Fade to Grey by John Lincoln

A closed-world murder mystery wrapped inside a post-apocalyptic thriller, The Last by Hanna Jameson (Viking, £12.99) is set in a remote Swiss hotel. American historian Jon Keller, there for a conference, reads about the end of the world on the internet. Nuclear attacks take out major cities and destroy communications until the 20 people remaining at L’Hôtel Sixiėme believe they may be the only survivors. They face food shortages, possible radiation sickness and despair, plus the body of a girl, apparently killed before the catastrophe, which has been found in a water tank. Jon, who takes it upon himself to provide a record of events, is determined to find the killer. ...

Tibor Fischer: ‘The book that changed my life? Hasn’t happened yet’

This post is by Tibor Fischer from Books | The Guardian

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The novelist on Tintin, Tom Wolfe and why Charles Willeford is the greatest writer of the 20th century

The book I am currently reading
Andrew Gimson’s Prime Ministers, the best general book on British politics I’ve ever come across. Learned, witty and wise, and splendidly illustrated by Martin Rowson, with great snippets for dinner parties. Take Henry Pelham, prime minister from 1743 to 54: “He lived without abusing his power and died poor.”

The book I wish I’d written
Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. I read his account of the US space race with a mixture of elation and wonder, and the odd throb of despair (how will I ever write anything this good?).

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Andrea Levy had to fight for a recognition she truly deserved | Gary Younge

This post is by Gary Younge from Books | The Guardian

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The author whose politics were rooted in anti-racism defined achievement on her own terms

One of the last times I visited Andrea Levy, who died on Thursday evening, she chuckled with some mischief while describing the coffin of banana leaf and bamboo she had just picked out for herself.

Andrea had been living with cancer for some time and for the past few years had accepted it would claim her life eventually. She talked about her impending death in a matter-of-fact way, right down to parking arrangements for the funeral. She had processed it and, with characteristic fortitude, decided she would rather live with what was coming than die from what she had. “We’re all going to die,” she told me. “It’s just that I’ve got a pretty good idea when I’m going to die and you don’t.”

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Andrea Levy, chronicler of the Windrush generation, dies aged 62

This post is by Richard Lea from Books | The Guardian

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Award-winning author of Small Island had cancer

The writer Andrea Levy, who explored the experience of Jamaican British people in a series of novels over 20 years, has died aged 62 after the recurrence of a cancer first diagnosed six years ago.

After starting to write as a hobby in her early 30s, Levy published three novels in the 1990s that brought her positive reviews and steady sales. But her fourth novel, Small Island, launched her into the literary big league, winning the 2004 Orange prize, the Whitbread book of the year and the Commonwealth Writers’ prize, selling more than 1m copies around the world and inspiring a 2009 BBC adaptation.

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Eric Hobsbawm by Richard J Evans review – Marxist intellectual, national treasure

This post is by Stefan Collini from Books | The Guardian

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A richly detailed biography reveals Hobsbawm’s inner life, and underlines how he became the world’s Top Historian and a literary star

As a 17-year-old London schoolboy, Eric Hobsbawm solemnly confided to his diary in 1934: “I am an intellectual through and through – with all the weakness of an intellectual – inhibitions, complexes etc.” It’s an endearing glimpse – part self-criticism, part self-importance, part the recognisable tendency of the bookish teenage boy to rationalise Trouble With Girls. Hobsbawm went on to become a professor, a political guru and eventually something of a national treasure. But for the rest of his long life (he died in 2012), he remained above all an intellectual, in several of the senses of that protean term.

As a youth, he was something of a prodigy. Growing up in an Anglo-Austrian Jewish family in Vienna, Berlin and London, he was bilingual in English and German, ...

The Spirit of Science Fiction by Roberto Bolaño review – a hymn to Mexico City

This post is by Chloe Aridjis from Books | The Guardian

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It may not have been intended for publication, but the novel’s exuberant spirit offers an insight into Bolaño’s later work

Motorcycles are the vehicles of choice in The Spirit of Science Fiction; one in particular, a stolen brown Benelli called Aztec Princess, carves its erratic path through the pages of the novel, stalling and starting, testing its engine as it changes speed and direction. Midway through the book, the narrative itself begins to feel like a motorbike being revved, a loud growl that every now and then accelerates into glee and abandon before slipping back into a more tentative mode.

The Chilean author Roberto Bolaño is best known for his effervescent novel The Savage Detectives, first published in English in 2007, four years after his death, and the epic 2666. The latest genie to emerge from his seemingly inexhaustible archive, The Spirit of Science Fiction, was ...

Why I lied: after Dan Mallory, authors who faked their stories on what happened next

This post is by Leo Benedictus from Books | The Guardian

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Does the true identity of a writer really matter? Authors who fabricated literary personas share how their fantasies became nightmares

On the first day of this year’s Jaipur literary festival, the American novelist AJ Finn, real name Dan Mallory, was interviewed on stage. He talked about enjoying the success of The Woman in the Window, the thriller he wrote in one year, in one draft, which made him a multimillionaire. He talked about his diagnosis with bipolar II disorder, and the parallel between women’s struggle to be taken seriously and that experienced by people with mental health problems. He also mentioned some of the drawbacks of success. “I am dealing with a particularly unpleasant journalist in the US,” he told after the event. “This particular journalist, and there have been a few others, hears that I or someone else has a mental health issue, ...

James K Baxter: venerated poet’s letters about marital rape rock New Zealand

This post is by Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin from Books | The Guardian

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Collection of writings just released includes references to rape of then-wife Jackie Sturm, herself an acclaimed poet and author

A new collection of letters from one of New Zealand’s most significant poets, James K Baxter, that includes a blunt admission of marital rape is causing shockwaves through the literary community.

Baxter died in Auckland in 1972 but remains one of New Zealand’s literary giants. He achieved international attention in the late 1950s after Oxford University Press published his poetry collection, In Fires Of No Return.

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Game over: why haven’t dating guides woken up to new sexual politics?

This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian

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A domestic violence charity had called for the end of Neil Strauss’ pickup artist book The Game – but dating guides aimed at both women and men are full of retrograde advice

Before writing The Game, Neil Strauss was a self-described “lump of nerd”. But his 2005 bestseller, which has shifted more than 3m copies around the world (270,000 in the UK), revealed the secrets of his midlife transformation into a ladies’ man, through time spent in the company of professional pickup artists. Techniques revealed by Strauss – practised long before his book, but never before exposed to such a big audience – included “negging” (making negative comments to lower a woman’s self-esteem so she’ll stay to earn approval) and “cavemanning” (aggressively escalating physical contact).

None of this reads very well in 2019 and this week, the director of women’s charity Zero Tolerance Rachel Adamson called for UK publisher Canongate ...

Historians warn against soundbite verdicts on Winston Churchill

This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian

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Following consternation over shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s judgment, experts have appealed for less simplistic appraisal

The political fallout over John McDonnell’s characterisation of Winston Churchill as a villain continued on Thursday, with Boris Johnson suggesting that the shadow chancellor “should be utterly ashamed of his remarks”. But historians have poured scorn on the idea that Churchill’s legacy can be reduced to one word, arguing that history “should never be reduced to soundbites”.

The row began after McDonnell was asked at an event organised by Politico to answer in one word whether Britain’s wartime prime minister was a hero or a villain. The shadow chancellor replied: “Villain – Tonypandy.” This was a reference to an incident in the south Wales town in 1910, when riots erupted after police attempted to break the miners’ picket line. The then home secretary Churchill sent 200 officers of the Metropolitan police and a detachment ...

Billy Bragg writes first in series of political pamphlets by musicians

This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian

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The Three Dimensions of Freedom, a polemic about accountability by the singer-songwriter, will launch line of similar works from Faber

Singer-songwriter and leftwing activist Billy Bragg is spearheading the launch of a new line of political pamphlets in the tradition of Thomas Paine, taking on the crisis of accountability in western democracies.

Running to 15,000 words, Bragg’s polemic, The Three Dimensions of Freedom, will be published in May and will tackle the battleground that free speech has become. Bragg argues, said publisher Faber & Faber, “that to protect ourselves from encroaching tyranny, we must look beyond this one-dimensional notion of what it means to be free and, by reconnecting liberty to equality and accountability, restore the individual agency engendered by the three dimensions of freedom”.

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Picnic in the Storm by Yukiko Motoya review – ingenious stories

This post is by Chris Power from Books | The Guardian

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Meet flying commuters and a man made of straw in tales from a prize‑winning Japanese author

Strange things happen in Yukiko Motoya’s short stories: salarymen get swept skywards, Mary Poppins-like, by their umbrellas; sales assistants help aliens choose the perfect outfit; and women challenge their boyfriends to duels. Like soap bubbles, several of these stories catch your eye, but the instant they are gone you forget about them. It’s when Motoya is on the rocky terrain of collapsing relationships that her strangeness finds the friction it needs to stick.

In 2016 Motoya won Japan’s most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa prize, for the novella that appears here as “An Exotic Marriage”. It is an ingenious, funny and frightening story in which San and her husband appear to be transforming into one another. “Whenever I’d gotten close to someone in the past,” San thinks, “I’d had the feeling that little by ...

Adèle by Leïla Slimani review – sex-addiction thriller

This post is by Lara Feigel from Books | The Guardian

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The follow-up to Lullaby centres on a modern-day Emma Bovary whose frustrated desires threaten to destroy her family

Are there secret desires that both endanger family life and make it survivable? Do we long to escape our children? To have sex with strangers at will? The Franco-Moroccan novelist Leïla Slimani’s Lullaby won the Prix Goncourt in 2016 and swiftly became a bestseller here last year. That tale of a murderous nanny, exposing the fetid emotional growths fouling the bourgeois home, was Slimani’s second novelistic investigation of forbidden desires. Now Adèle, the novel she wrote before that breakthrough success, has been translated into English by Sam Taylor.

When we first meet Adèle, she’s leaving the house before her husband and son wake up, looking for sex on the way to work. “Adèle has been good,” the opening proclaims, but now “she wants to be devoured, sucked, swallowed whole.” For ...

Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas review – superb hate-reading

This post is by Aditya Chakrabortty from Books | The Guardian

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A spirited examination of the hubris and hypocrisy of the super-rich who claim they are helping the world

Davos is no place for fighting. It is where chief executives fly to in private jets to discuss the dire consequences of climate change, where hot-money speculators deliver homilies on responsible investing, and the world’s media receive every falling cliche with unctuous warmth. Yet last month it was here in Switzerland, amid the sharp shooters and roadblocks, that a very revealing skirmish broke out.

At a panel devoted to “making digital globalization inclusive” (for Davos is mainly a hollow-eyed human re-enactment of the drabbest Economist editorials), computer tycoon Michael Dell was asked what he thought about a 70% tax on earnings of more than $10m a year. The very idea provoked speakers and audience to peals of laughter. What a joke, to take money away from these deserving multimillionaires! Dell, the 39th ...

Top 10 genre-twisting novels | Alan Trotter

This post is by Alan Trotter from Books | The Guardian

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From Cervantes’ warping of chivalric romance to Flann O’Brien’s narrative games, novelist Alan Trotter picks his favourite convention-smashing tales

Genre focuses our attention in such a way as to make some stories seem possible, even inevitable, while crowding out others. It creates (and then solidifies through repetition) certain characters, settings, techniques, themes, until it seems they could almost self-replicate if authors would just get out of the way. Inevitably, this makes resisting and undermining genre seem extremely attractive and fun.

Related: Smart goons and a character called _____: the subversive hardboiled crime of Alan Trotter

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In a Time of Monsters: Travels Through a Middle East in Revolt by Emma Sky – review

This post is by Jason Burke from Books | The Guardian

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The former political adviser dines with sheikhs and stays with ambassadors to grasp how a generation let down the Middle East

When the Arab spring spread across the Middle East eight years ago, many observers were filled with optimism. Years of sclerotic dictatorship were over, repressive regimes would fall, a wave of progressive politics would sweep across the region. But this was always unlikely, as the more astute commentators made clear at the time. Many of the authoritarian states remained strong, buttressed by patronage networks, vested interests and regional or international support. Opposition movements were undermined by ideological disagreements, ethnic or other divides and determined, brutal repression. Brave teenagers with inspiring slogans proved no match for the teargas and tanks of regimes, nor for the calculations of distant powers.

One key factor often missed was that many of the people in states as diverse as Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia ...

We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet review – a child in wartime

This post is by Melissa Harrison from Books | The Guardian

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Parental love is at the heart of a story grounded in the details of everyday life in an English village during the second world war

Domestic stories of women’s lives in wartime are common in genre publishing but rarer in literary fiction. From the off, Frances Liardet’s second novel, published 25 years after her first, distances itself from nostalgia and insists on its own terms. The writing is often dazzling – a child’s voice is “clear, piping, like a twig peeled of its bark” – and this, too, lifts what might have been a sentimental story into different territory altogether.

It is 1940 and a busload of bombed-out civilians from Southampton has arrived in the village of Upton, where Ellen Parr and her much older husband Selwyn, a miller with whom she has what’s described as a mariage blanc, are helping to find them beds for the night. The ...

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold review – the untold lives of Jack the Ripper’s victims

This post is by Frances Wilson from Books | The Guardian

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A landmark study calls time on the misogyny that fed the Jack the Ripper myth. Why has it taken 130 years for a book telling the stories of the women to appear?

Few women have had the moment of their deaths returned to more often, and with as much relish, as Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. In each case their throats were cut, and four of them had their entrails removed. Kelly, the only one of “the canonical five”, as Jack the Ripper’s known victims are called, to die in her bed, was completely mutilated. Forests have been felled in the interests of unmasking the murderer, but until now no one has bothered to discover the identity of his victims. The Five is thus an angry and important work of historical detection, calling time on the misogyny that has fed the ...

Tell us: what books are the most shocking or disturbing?

This post is by Guardian readers and Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian

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On this week’s books podcast, we discuss the works that we struggled to finish – or even had to hide – because they were so shocking.

  • Share your literary terrors in the comments below

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us,” Franz Kafka once wrote. “If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for?”

That’s all very well, Kafka, but how about the books literally about wounding and stabbing? On this week’s books podcast, the Guardian’s resident thriller fan Alison Flood struggled to finish The Flower Girls, a new thriller by Alice Clark-Platts, the plot of which contains similarities to the James Bulger murder case. This sparked a discussion on the books desk about the books that have most disturbed us: commissioning editor Richard Lea had nightmares after ...

Reading group: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin is our book for February

This post is by Sam Jordison from Books | The Guardian

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This month’s choice is a groundbreaking gay love story that impressed even prejudiced critics

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin has come out of the hat and will be our book about love for this month’s reading group.

Baldwin’s second novel was written in 1956 when the author lived in Paris. As he explained in a 1980 interview, this story of failing to find love and a young man doomed to death was partly inspired by real life:

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