Mysteries of English village life: Creeping Jenny, by Jeff Noon, reviewed

I doubt whether any book would entice me more than a horrible hybrid of crimefiction, speculative fantasy, weird religion and postmodernism. If that makes Jeff Noon’s third outing of the private detective John Nyquist sound like a niche affair I apologise, as it is a rollicking and goose-flesh- inducing novel. Writers such as the late Gilbert Adair have already used the forms of the murder mystery to explore avant-garde ideas, especially in his Evadne Mount trilogy. Noon — the author of those modern classics Automated Alice and Vurt — has created the ultimate mash-up with his Nyquist novels. There is a small joke for bibliophilic readers on the back cover.

The art of the hermit

Late in the afternoon on Valentine’s Day, I walked through an almost empty Uffizi. Coronavirus was then a Wuhan phenomenon. Our temperatures had been taken at the airport, but there were no restrictions on travel and those wearing masks looked eccentric. I congratulated myself on finding Florence so quiet. Off-season, I thought smugly. That’s the way to do it. Heaven knows it’s empty now. The painting that caught my eye on that distant-seeming visit was a long, low cassone-shaped painting on the theme of the Thebaid attributed to Fra Angelico (c.1420). The Thebaid is a collection of texts telling of the saints who in the first centuries of Christianity retreated