Tea and treachery: Sheep’s Clothing, by Celia Dale, reviewed

‘It was a nice way of living,’ huffs Grace, the fiftysomething anti-heroine of Celia Dale’s devilishly dark 1988 novel Sheep’s Clothing, republished by Daunt Books. Recently released from Holloway prison, and using a demure headscarf and twin-set as cover, Grace teams up with Janice, a former fellow inmate, to rob elderly women. Disguised as social workers, and armed with an illicit supply of sleeping pills, they are after pension money stashed under mattresses, trinkets in shoeboxes and polished candlesticks on mantelpieces. The victims, invariably women (‘even an old man could be surprisingly strong’) often welcome the thieves, happy to have someone to ‘talk at’ and a cup of tea made

The shocking truth about adulterated wine: it was delicious

In 2012 the esoteric world of wine connoisseurship made the news when the FBI raided the Californian home of an Indonesian national called Rudy Kurniawan. They found a factory for creating fake wines with bottles, corks, labels and even recipes. According to Rebecca Gibb in Vintage Crime, Kurniawan’s counterfeit Mouton Rothschild from the legendary 1945 vintage consisted of two parts Cos d’Estournel, one part Château Palmer and one part California cabernet. Now tell me that doesn’t sound delicious. Most people don’t care about provenance as long as the wine tastes good and isn’t actually poisonous The book takes the reader on a highly entertaining tour of wine fraud from ancient

The conman who duped thousands with a patently absurd story

In the early months of 1981, investors in a Swiss fund stuffed with cash, diamonds and gold began arriving at a five-star London hotel to await an audience with the fiscal wizard making them fabulously rich. Dr John Ackah Blay-Miezah would turn up in his grey chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce, clad in an immaculately tailored suit and clasping a big cigar in bejewelled hands. Then he would regale them with tales from his student days at the University of Pennsylvania, even singing the famous Penn fight song, and talk of developing Ghana using wealth plundered by his close friend Kwame Nkrumah, the country’s first post-independence president. ‘No one could create such a

A visit from the devil: Russian Gothic, by Aleksandr Skorobogatov, reviewed

Like light from faraway stars, fiction from outside the Anglosphere may take decades to reach English-language readers. This sinister, indeed sulphurous, novella by a Belarus-born author was first published in Russian in 1991, and won major awards. Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse’s English translation, as creepily compelling as the book deserves, appears long after the contemporary hook that Aleksandr Skorobogatov embeds in his tale has lost its topicality. Recent events, however, make this fable of obsession, madness and violence timelier than ever. It almost vindicates a belief in Russian history and literature as an epic recycling of eternal themes. In a dismal Russian town lives Nikolai, a drifter and drinker on a

The great deception: The Book of Goose, by Yiyun Li, reviewed

As introductions go, ‘My name is Agnès, but that is not important’ does not have quite the same confidence as ‘Call me Ishmael’. But there’s a reason for this. Agnès Moreau, the narrator of Yiyun Li’s disconcerting, mesmerising fifth novel The Book of Goose, only became a storyteller by accident. Writing from Pennsylvania, where the ‘French bride’ Agnès raises geese, she remembers post-war rural France and her childhood in Saint Rémy. She and her friend Fabienne, avoiding other girls their age, spent their days lying among gravestones and minding cows – until Fabienne decides that they should write a book together. Fabienne’s stories are dark – dead babies, dead children,

Appearances are deceptive: Trio, by William Boyd, reviewed

Talbot Kydd, film producer; Anny Viklund, American actress; Elfrida Wing, novelist; these make the trio of the title. Private lives are the issue. Wing’s long-suffering agent tells her if you want to know what’s going on in people’s heads, ‘behind those masks we all wear — then read a novel’. The main setting of Trio is Brighton in revolutionary 1968. The actress says: ‘I’m meant to be a famous film star who’s making a film in Brighton.’ That’s the core of the novel. William Boyd is one of our best contemporary storytellers; remember An Ice-cream War and Restless. He tells this morality tale with sustained humour; remember the Nat Tate