A look at the latest releases, plus what's new in paperback.

By Kate Whiting

New fiction

Inferno by Dan Brown is published in hardback by Transworld, priced £20 (ebook £7.20). Available now.

It's been almost four years since Professor Robert Langdon, the renowned Harvard symbologist, last embarked on a mystery. In 2009, Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, which was set in Washington, was met with a lukewarm reception. Perhaps the winning formula he'd struck upon in the best-selling Da Vinci Code and its sequel Angels And Demons had started to seem tired - the novelty had worn off.

With Inferno, Brown wisely returns the action to Europe, the setting for his first two books, but the formula is the same: Langdon meets a very attractive, intelligent young woman (think Da Vinci Code's Sophie Neveu) called Dr Sienna Brooks and together the pair try to unravel a mystery with its roots in ancient literature to save the world from a deadly plague, while escaping from some evil types who are trying to kill them.

Brown cleverly adopts a new device here though - we first find Langdon coming round in a hospital bed, attended by Dr Brooks, with what seems to be retrograde amnesia. He can't remember a single thing about the past 48 hours - and doesn't know why he's suddenly in Florence. A spiky-haired female assassin, who has already tried to shoot him in the head with the bullet just grazing his scalp, tracks him down but Langdon and Dr Brooks escape.

In the safety of her apartment, Langdon discovers a mysterious object sewn into his trusty Harris tweed jacket (his Mickey Mouse watch is missing), which conceals a pointing device that, when shaken, projects an image of Botticelli's Inferno di Dante painting, which depicts the first part of the Italian poet's Divine Comedy. But the image has been subtly altered to provide a clue, leading Langdon and Dr Brooks on a race against time across Florence and Venice to Istanbul to find a hidden deadly virus, which is set to wipe out masses.

Langdon has eerie hallucinations of dead bodies washing downstream and a mysterious silver-haired woman who is urging him to 'seek' and 'find'. It transpires she's the current head of the World Health Organisation who is aware of a plot by famous geneticist Bertrand Zobrist to rebalance the world's population before it grows so big it implodes. But she's being held by a dark organisation known as 'The Consortium'.

Brown is tackling provocative territory here, as he sets out the case for population control (neo-eugenics) through the eyes of his mad scientist and the consequences of doing nothing, while raising the spectre of a biological weapon of mass destruction.

While the mix of action and Langdon's explanations of art and literature is evenly balanced, there are stretches, such as when he and Dr Brooks hide out in the Boboli Gardens, that seem overly drawn-out.

Brown is famously not the most literary of writers (what would Dante himself have thought?) but he is a master of intrigue and clever plotting - right until the close, he's throwing twists at his readers - and with Inferno he has returned to his Da Vinci Code best.


(Review by Kate Whiting)

The Last Hangman by Shashi Warrier is published in hardback by Atlantic Books, priced £12.99 (ebook £5.87). Available now.

Economist and software specialist turned author Shashi Warrier's The Last Hangman is set in south India, where he grew up. It is the story of a retired hangman who is visited by a writer interested in producing his biography.

To help the writer, he suggests the hangman put pen to paper to describe his life. Through his diary entries, the reader learns about every aspect of the hangman's work, from how the gallows operate to the religious rituals connected with a hanging, and how society shuns him for the job he does.

The hangman explains how, in the beginning, he believed he was working for the king of his homeland. The king was believed to be a representative of God on Earth, so the hangman saw himself as doing his duty. But after learning that the king was a mere mortal too, the hangman began to question what he did.

For many years he has pushed his feelings to one side, but now, with his memories coming to the fore, he must confront his past and come to terms with how he has spent his life.

Despite the unsettling subject matter, the reader is compelled to delve deeper into the mind of the hangman. In doing so, they learn of the loneliness he has felt, unable to speak to his family or friends about his experiences.

Through the hangman's eyes, the book ultimately asks what it means to end a life. Its only flaw is that with the hangman talking about his life in the present tense and then in diary form, on occasion details are repeated. Otherwise, it is an interesting, thought-provoking read.


(Review by Victoria Burt)

Leftovers by Stella Newman is published in paperback by Avon, priced £6.99 (ebook £0.99). Available now.

Stella Newman's latest novel is the happy-ending type that makes you sigh 'Ahh' as you close the final page.

According to a magazine quiz, Susie Rosen is a 'leftover'. A modern day Bridget Jones, 30-something and stuck in a career she hates, she is still recovering from her last failed relationship. Her habit of drinking too much alcohol on a week night makes her job even more painful with a hangover.

But what happens when you find yourself ready to jump off that treadmill and start doing something you actually enjoy - like setting up a blog about the best pasta to eat in any given circumstance? It's daunting, but Susie is adamant it will happen - just as soon as she pulls off her latest advertising campaign ('Fat Bird' pizzas for dieting women - genius) and gets that promotion.

This read is funny, feisty and fresh. Susie is the type you want as a friend - especially when you know what culinary delights she can whip up.

Whether left on the shelf, or left on the plate, leftovers aren't always what you perceive them to be. You never know what they can turn into, and Susie's story makes for an enjoyable, light read.


(Review by Emily Pawson)

Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger is published in hardback by Jonathan Cape, priced £16.99. Available now.

Best known for her novel The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger, who's also a skilled illustrator, has turned her hand to creating an illustrated novella after she was asked to write a 'dark fairytale' for the Royal Ballet.

A postman strays from his usual route to deliver a package and comes across an injured raven, which he nurses back to health, falls in love with and marries, fathering a child shortly after. Physically the child is human, but growing up she longs to become more bird-like.

The succinct writing style is accompanied by Niffenegger's abstract illustrations that help distinguish the dark tone of the story and highlight the unethical measures the raven girl takes to modify her body.

It's a melancholic fantasy with a warped take on cosmetic surgery, the nature of self identity, and man's compatibility with technology. Dark and aesthetically inviting, this tale is just not engrossing enough for an adult audience.


(Review by Wayne Walls)

Ten by Andrej Longo is published in paperback by Harvill Secker, priced £12.99 (ebook £10.01). Available now.

First published in 2007, and the winner of the 2008 Bagutta Prize in Italy, Ten is part-time pizza maker and writer Andrej Longo's first translation into English.

Written in somewhat sparse simple prose, which is nonetheless poetic and multi-layered in meaning, the author inflicts his vision of modern-day Naples on us through 10 interlinking short stories based on the Ten Commandments.

Each story acts as a vignette of the city, vistas of ordinary people trying to live out their lives within a backdrop of decadence and violence.

Here, Longo skilfully paints a picture of a community overrun by crime, lorded over by gangsters, and populated by lascivious thugs and young girls.

The compassion he feels for all of these players is deeply felt and the result is a searing indictment of a bereft society where spiritual matters have all but been forgotten.


(Review by Darren Heath)

Children's book of the week

The Bone Dragon by Alexia Casale is published in paperback by Faber & Faber, priced £9.99 (ebook £6.36). Available now.

Author Alexia Casale is a writing consultant, editor and English literature teacher. The Bone Dragon is her debut novel.

After a dark upbringing leads to a hospital operation, teenager Evie is adopted by a new family who help her to recover and integrate back into society. With wounds both physical and mental, Evie's past is riddled with secrets and her present life sees her blurring the line between reality and fantasy.

The story follows Evie and her surprising companion as she uncovers the secrets of her family and at school - and learns to trust again. This sees Evie thrust into the spotlight, challenging her relationship with her teachers and friends while introducing her to the magical demeanour of nature.

Overall, The Bone Dragon is an enchanting young adult novel steeped in mystery, and will keep young readers guessing until the very end.


(Review by Lynley Myers)


The Serpent's Promise: The Bible Retold As Science by Steve Jones is published in hardback by Little Brown, priced £25 (ebook £12.99). Available now.

The Bible was the first scientific textbook, says popular geneticist Professor Steve Jones. It asked a lot of questions and gave a lot of answers.

In The Serpent's Promise: The Bible Retold As Science, Jones examines some of those questions and answers them using modern science.

This isn't an examination of the minutiae of The Good Book. Instead, it looks at the bigger questions, such as how did the universe originate, where do diseases come from and are we all descended from a single couple (Adam and Eve)?

If you're looking for an exploration of the validity of faith, written in a way that's easily accessible to those with little scientific knowledge, this probably isn't for you.

But if you're interested in science and love a good fact then it's worth a read. This is no Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, but then again, as Jones says, it never set out to be.

He sums it up as follows: "The Serpent's Promise is not intended as an attack on, or defence of, Christianity... I attempt to stand back and take a fresh look at the sacred writings in a volume that tries to interpret some of its themes in today's language."

Themes, rather than details is the key word here. It's an interesting read, if not quite what it appears to be at first glance.


(Review by Sophie Herdman)

The Manner Of Men: 9 Para's Heroic D-Day Mission by Stuart Tootal is published in hardback by John Murray, priced £25 (ebook £12.99). Available now.

June 6 is a date that will never be forgotten in the coastal village of Ranville in France's Calvados region.

It was here that 9 Para's heroic D-Day mission overcame almost overwhelming odds, poor planning and flawed intelligence and more than its fair share of bad luck to pay a vital role in the Allied invasion of mainland Europe that was eventually to bring about the end of conflict.

Their assault on a well-defended gun battery bought valuable time for troops landing on the Normandy beaches and their follow-up mission also protected the invading force from German counter-attacks.

Tootal, a veteran of the Gulf War and Afghanistan who now commentates on defence for various media, writes with the authority and insight only a serving soldier can possess.

The Manner Of Men, his second book, is a testimony to the bravery of the men of the Parachute Regiment and the resilience of a group of men who made the ultimate sacrifice without a moment's hesitation.

Anyone who can read the closing pages without a lump in their throat has no compassion.


(Review by Roddy Brooks)

How Animals Grieve by Barbara J King is published in hardback by the University of Chicago Press, priced £17.50 (ebook £7.72). Available now.

A book focusing on how animals mourn for their fellow creatures was never going to be light or easy reading, but Barbara J King has to be given her dues for what she has done here.

A professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, King uses real-life anecdotes to emphasise the scientific data that exists on animals' grieving processes - from her friends' cat Willa, who wailed and yowled for her dead sister Carson, to Hachiko, the devoted dog who has been immortalised in statue form in Tokyo for his endless loyalty to his owner.

In this book, King argues that most animals possess the ability to feel loss - not just domestic pets like cats, dogs and horses, but also wild creatures such as dolphins, elephants and baboons. But it appears that not all animals mourn for their fellow creatures, with chimpanzees and ants among them.

The book is touching at times. The story of Sissy the elephant who places her beloved tyre (her security blanket) on her friend's grave cannot fail to move the reader, along with the female dolphin who carried her dead calf for several days, which surely proves that animals can have bonds to their loved ones, just like humans.


(Review by Shereen Low)

Bestsellers for the week ending May 11


1 Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel

2 Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

3 Sweet Tooth, Ian McEwan

4 The Red House, Mark Haddon

5 The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson

6 The Fast Diet, Mimi Spencer and Michael Mosley

7 BBC Proms 2013: The Official Guide

8 The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

9 A Game Of Thrones: A Song Of Ice and Fire, George RR Martin

10 The Fault In Our Stars, John Green

(Compiled by Waterstone's)


1 Magician's End, Raymond E Feist

2 Dead Ever After: A True Blood Novel, Charlaine Harris

3 A Delicate Truth, John le Carre

4 This Boy: A Memoir Of A Childhood, Alan Johnson

5 Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume One: Not for Turning, CharlesMoore

6 Light, Michael Grant

7 Gwynne's Grammar: The Ultimate Introduction To Grammar And The Writing Of Good English, NM Gwynne

8 Wedding Night, Sophie Kinsella

9 Paul Hollywood's Bread, Paul Hollywood

10 Tales From Acorn Wood: Fox's Socks, Julia Donaldson

(Compiled by Waterstone's)


1 Guilt By Association, Marcia Clark

2 Inferno, Dan Brown

3 The Magpies: A Psychological Thriller, Mark Edwards

4 Watch Over Me, Daniela Sacerdoti

5 Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

6 The Back Road, Rachel Abbott

7 The French House, Nick Alexander

8 The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

9 A Day At The Office, Matt Dunn

10 The Perfect Retreat, Kate Forster

(Compiled by the Kindle store at Amazon.co.uk)

:: Note to editors: This is a re-send of the book column, including the latest charts from Waterstone's