NEW NON-FICTION The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced £15.99.
Young medical student Daniel Connor travels from Derbyshire to Paris in 1815 full of anticipation for what the future holds as an apprentice to the famous Dr Cuvier. Along with a letter of recommendation from Edinburgh Medical School, Daniel is carrying with him several specimens of rare coral to hand to Dr Cuvier. However, his future in Paris is jeopardised when an enigmatic woman, with whom he strikes up conversation, disappears into the night, taking his corals with her.
Stott successfully conjures the atmosphere of the intoxicating Parisian underworld, expertly depicts Daniel's naivety and explores scientific debate of the time.
Unfortunately, none of this is quite enough to compensate for a plot that fails to generate enough intrigue. In particular, Daniel's attempts to track down the elusive thief do become tiresome. Read this novel for the atmospheric depiction of 19th-century Paris and scientific theories that were explored at the time. Give it a miss if you're seeking a riveting page-turner.
4/10 Review by Stephenie Murray
A Fair Maiden: A Novel of Dark Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates is published by Quercus, priced 12.99.
Arguably one of Joyce Carol Oates's lesser works, A Fair Maiden: A Novel of Dark Suspense is a novella intricately linked to the anonymous Ballad of Barbara Allen about a young boy who dies of unrequited love for the callous young beauty, extracts of which are quoted in the text.
Infusing the novel with a mythical resonance, Oates weaves a different kind of tale, wherein 16-year-old nanny Katya Spivak from South Jersey is wooed by 68-year-old painter Marcus Kidder, a silver-haired member of posh Bayhead Harbour's established elite.
At first, his interest seems innocuous, even irreproachable, but then he insists they are "soul mates" and invites her to be his model and muse, eventually asking from her more than what she had bargained.
This brisk suspense is a story of intrigue, an examination of class differences and the complex permutations of love, revealing the curious results that stem from Katya and Mr. Kidder's unlikely relationship.
5/10 Review by Trisha Andres
How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economics Calamities by John Cassidy is published by Penguin, priced 25.
As an analysis of the 2008 global financial meltdown, John Cassidy's book is so well informed and deeply researched that it is possible even Adam Smith had a digit in the doodah when The Wealth Of Nations suggested in 1776 that free financial markets tend to get it right in the end. Cassidy reckons 2008 showed they often don't, and might not in the future.
He blames the decision by former US Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan to slash interest rates after 9/11 in 2001 and keep them down, saying he failed to spot the housing bubble, coupled with lax credit controls which gave money to too many people who couldn't repay it and the fact the stock market is "essentially a game played between sophisticates and boobs".
Cassidy's book shows how various economists – notably Hyman Minsky, hugely critical of free markets until his death in 1996 – pinpointed obvious weaknesses in the system and in human nature which led to disaster, but he doesn't identify the sort of villains you want to throw cabbages at if you've lost most of your money, like Gillian Tett's marvellous and much pacier Fool's Gold.
7/10 Review by Jeremy Gates
Herg: The Man Who Created Tintin by Pierre Assouline is published by Oxford University Press, priced 16.99.
Mention the word Tintin and most people will have heard of the intrepid reporter's exploits across the globe, detailed in 24 books, with Captain Haddock and dog Snowy in tow.
But his creator, Herg, is more a mystery. Pierre Assouline's biography offers an insight into the man behind one of the best-loved characters of all time.
Accused after the Second World War of being a Nazi sympathiser, it took many decades for Herg to shed his hated image. He suffered bouts of depression and, as his career progressed, he would regularly disappear for months at a time.
Assouline tells of the work by Herg and his colleagues to "correct" earlier works by turning black people into whites and remove every image of Captain Haddock drinking straight from a bottle in The Crab With The Golden Claws.
But Herg is also revealed to be a good-hearted man, who replied personally to every letter from his child readers.
Assouline delves deeply into Herg's career and personal life, as well as the development of the Tintin books, but this is a biography for die-hard fans only.
6/10 Review by Emily Ashton
The Political Gene: How Darwin's Ideas Changed Politics by Dennis Sewell is published by Picador, priced 16.99.
In this, the 150th anniversary of the publication of his most famous book, it's been well nigh impossible to escape Charles Darwin. From biologists to dramatists, intellectuals and writers of every sort have joined in the chorus of near universal praise.
Perhaps appropriately, then, here is a political take on Darwin's legacy and the legacy of On The Origin Of Species that dares to sound a discordant note.
Spectator writer Dennis Sewell points out some of the more destructive movements that have adopted Darwin as their own – from eugenics to Nazism. In this short but thoughtful book, he challenges the political ideologies that have stemmed from Darwin's pioneering scientific work and warns of an over-reliance on evolutionary science in future.
8/10 Review by Jack Doyle
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