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Butcher in the Rye

In 1743 John Breads, a butcher, stabbed to death Allen Grebell in the declining Cinque port town of Rye on the east Sussex coast. Grebell was the brother-in-law of James Lamb, the mayor who lived in the town’s big house, Lamb House, that was later to be home to Henry James and E. F. Benson.

‘My libido’s last hurrah!’

At first sight Gilbert Adair’s new book seems like shameless pornography of a particularly sad and depraved kind, but more charitably and more accurately we discover as we read on that it is the story of an unlikely martyr-hero who risks his life in the cause of militant homosexuality rather than suffer suicidal loneliness. As

Early Essex man

Crime is a species of performance art. Acts of murder, theft or fraud assume the collusive presence of an audience formed from that law-abiding majority for whom felony on a grand scale holds an inextinguishable glamour. Even a simple mugging possesses elements of street theatre, as if some sort of scenario had been worked out

A serious case of rising damp

In this, her ninth novel, Maggie Gee has determinedly sought — like God in the beginning — to make the watery world she has created ‘teem with countless living creatures’. She did not, however, see to it that it was good. For The Flood teems not only with living things (birds ‘quivering, flashing on the

Sins of the fathers

Dan Fesperman’s first book, Lie in the Dark, was a fine debut: set in Sarajevo during the civil war, it had homicide detective Vlado Petric struggling to investigate a murder case while sniper bullets snapped about his heels. The Small Boat of Great Sorrows (Bantam Press, £12.99) is the follow-up and it is written to

The war and a sprained ankle

The story of the emergence of the poet from the prose writer Edward Thomas — not his emergence as an acknowledged poet, that took another 30 years — is probably well known but is so astonishing it can bear a brief retelling. From his early twenties Thomas had been earning a living, supporting his family

A breeze with a hint of rain

Diplomat, soldier, diplomat again, humanitarian, environmentalist: you cannot plan a career like that today. But that has been the CV of John Henniker, otherwise Major Henniker-Major MC, now the eighth Lord Henniker, who, in his late eighties, has written a modest and readable account of his life and work. Born in 1916, and following a

A thoughtful trip to the seaside

Set in Anatolia in 1922, The Maze describes the retreat of a Greek brigade to the sea. Under the questionable guidance of a brigadier addicted to morphine and a hypocritical priest without the slightest understanding of their parlous situation, the detachment is lost in the arid landscape. Thanks to the trail of droppings left by

Roller-coaster of a ride

David Mitchell has fast established himself as a novelist of considerable authority and power. His first novel, Ghostwritten, was published as recently as 1999, and Cloud Atlas is only his third. Anyone who read his remarkable debut, or its successor, number9dream, will instantly recognise the characteristic moves and bold gestures of this amazing extravaganza. His