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The East Side rail tunnel

Exploring underneath the streets of New York City

Since he discovered an abandoned tunnel that ran beneath his house at the age of 16, Will Hunt has been fascinated by exploring subterranean worlds. In this extract from his debut book, the urban adventurer describes the first time he ventured below the Upper West Side of Manhattan

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New Scotland Street Chapter 49: Constructive mistruths

New Scotland Street Chapter 49: Constructive mistruths

Stuart very much regretted his acceptance of Katie’s invitation to dinner. He had done so, of course, before she had sprung on him the news that she had a boyfriend and that she wanted to arrange for the two of them to meet. Having accepted, though, it would be difficult for him to get out of the commitment, and now the evening of the dinner party was upon him.

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A Jewish woman prays in a cave that contains tombs of holy Jewish rabbis at the ancient cemetery of the northern Israeli city of Safed - a city associated with Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah. PIC: Menahem Kahana / AFP/Getty Images

Book review: Kabbalah: Secrecy, Scandal And The Soul, by Harry Freedman

There is something indisputably glorious about the kind of book that can take in Paracelsus, Moses Maimonides, Ramon Llull, author of the The Great Art and mystical engineer, Count Pico della Mirandola, Isaac Newton, the angel Metatron, the strange and tragic uprising of Shabbetai Tzvi, who thought he was the Messiah and yet converted to Islam, the golem of Prague, Aleister Crowley, Madonna (the singer, rather than the Blessed Virgin) and Princess Eugenie.

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James Oswald PIC: Steven Scott Taylor / JP License

Book review: Cold As The Grave, by James Oswald

The first few chapters of Cold As The Grave, the ninth Tony McLean book, encapsulate James Oswald’s delicate blend of police procedural and the supernatural. In less than two dozen pages he sets up another tightly woven plot just waiting for McLean to pull on a loose end and unravel something deeply unpleasant.

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New Scotland Street Chapter 48: On being escalated

New Scotland Street Chapter 48: On being escalated

Angus had not had much occasion to deal with the City Council. From time to time he exchanged greetings with members of the cleansing department as they emptied the bins – exchanges that were limited to observations on the weather and Cyril, whom Angus would be walking at the time.

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Ben Okri PIC: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

Book review: The Freedom Artist, by Ben Okri

Dystopian fiction is in fashion. John Lanchester has just published The Wall, a post-Brexit dystopia, it seems. Now Ben Okri offers The Freedom Artist, a meditation on the threat to freedom represented by the emergence of what is already called “a post-truth society.” So, whatever else this is, it’s a novel for our times. One shouldn’t exaggerate, of course, or pretend that our times are uniquely puzzling, upsetting or alarming. There’s nothing new about the disquieting idea that the foundations of our existence are crumbling, or about horrific visions of an imagined future. We have all read Kafka, and recognize the world as offered in the first sentence of The Trial: “Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K because without having done anything wrong he was arrested one morning.” Likewise Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four are novels which, though immediately relevant to the time of writing and publication, 1932 and 1949 respectively, have never, I think, been out of print.

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Time Song: Searching for Doggerland, by Julia Blackburn

Book review: Time Song - Searching for Doggerland, by Julia Blackburn

This is not a book about Brexit. However, given that it concerns itself with the once-inhabited landscape that for many millennia linked the east coast of England to the west coast of continental Europe – the Doggerland of the subtitle – and given that is has been published now, just as we are on the verge of leaving the European Union, it is impossible to read without Brexit in mind. It is a magical, mesmerising book – a book which makes you feel giddy at the thought of the deep gulf of history hidden just beneath your feet – and if it can be said to shed any light on the political tangle in which we find ourselves, it is perhaps this: that, while Brexit might seem like a big deal today, in the grand scheme of geological time it will barely register at all, beyond perhaps a gigantic queue of lorries, fossilized just outside Dover.

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New Scotland Street Chapter 44: Being simpatico

New Scotland Street Chapter 44: Being simpatico

Matthew had always found it difficult to cope with tears. Others might be able to endure the visible dissolution that tears involved – the misting over of the eyes, the quivering of the lips, the display of weakness and vulnerability that was our real human lot, no matter how we covered ourselves with the clothing of certainty and conviction. We were, when all was said and done, children lost in the wood, and to break into tears was the most understandable of reactions, the most quintessentially human one too.

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A woman walks past the border fence in the city of Tijuana, Mexico, on January 19, 2019 PIC: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Book review: The Wall, by John Lanchester

John Lanchester is a novelist and non-fiction writer who is always at least interesting, even if you might have a quibble or two with the work itself. He has also admirably varied his output; from the psychopathic The Debt To Pleasure, to the tragi-comic Mr Phillips, to historical fiction in Fragrant Harbour, to his “state of the nation novel” Capital, a kind of update of Trollope’s The Way We Live Now. His new novel is sort of science-fiction, sort of dark dystopia, sort of slantways political commentary. The best bits are very good indeed; but it can seem as if the best parts are the least expected parts.

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Ricky Monahan Brown

Book review: Stroke, by Ricky Monahan Brown

Ricky Monahan Brown’s memoir is certainly not for the squeamish: it describes the author’s massive haemorrhagic stroke which occurred out of the blue in 2012, and his subsequent recovery. The 38-year-old Scot was living in New York and divorced with a young daughter, but in the early stages of a new relationship. Working in the high-pressure environment of Manhattan financial law, he was sacked a day before the stroke but still spent a relaxed afternoon taking his daughter to a museum, eating out with his girlfriend, Beth, in the evening and having sex, before feeling distinctly unwell.

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New Scotland Street Chapter 43: Unearned Happiness

New Scotland Street Chapter 43: Unearned Happiness

As he drove the car up the winding drive of his house at Nine Mile Burn, Matthew reflected on his good fortune. Here he was in his late twenties with a business of his own, an attractive wife, a house, and three boisterous, healthy sons – and he had earned it all by dint of … He stopped there. No, that was the whole point: he had not earned any of this, not really, with the exception, perhaps, of Elspeth and the boys, although he was not sure if it was appropriate to talk of earning, or deserving, one’s family.

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