This month's selection of leisure reading, chosen by the Journal's book review editor

Lost Empress (a protest)

Sergio de la Pava (Maclehose Press: £20; e-book £9.99)

In his USA trilogy, John dos Passos used the technique of writing about seemingly disparate characters and having them interact over many, many pages. Sergio de la Pava is clearly an admirer. At the outset, there would seem to be little connection between Nina Gill, daughter of the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, alleged criminal Nuno DeAngeles and 911 operator Sharon Seaborg. During a season long strike in the National Football League, Nina takes over the Indoor Football League, finding herself proud owner of the Paterson Pork. Throw in a stolen work by Dali, the rise and fall of Sylvester Scarpetti, star transcriber of police interviews, and Travis Mena MD, who goes on to become both team doctor and mascot for the Pork, and you begin to make sense of it all.

You don’t? Well, you’re probably not alone. De la Pava is a criminal defence attorney in real life, which adds realism, if not readability to Nuno’s odyssey through the system. Minor characters appear and die, mostly for no obvious reason. The book brightens up any time the Machiavellian Nina and her clueless deputy Dia feature. Fortunately this is quite a lot and these sections do contain some decent humour. Sadly the same can’t be said of the tedious Nuno. The quality of the writing is very good: sadly, there’s just rather too much of it.

Cheer Up Love

Susan Calman (Two Roads: £8.99; e-book £1.99)

This is a searingly honest and deeply affecting book of comedian Susan Calman's struggle with and acceptance of depression. She trained and practised as a lawyer in Glasgow, but had self harmed from an early age and attempted suicide. She left the law in 2007, and after several years on the comedy circuit she got her break at the Edinburgh Fringe. Writing in a balanced, witty and upbeat style, Calman does not offer self help, but rather by letting us into her world and experiences, lets us see how to address depression. One line somewhat defines her approach: it probably won't happen, but it's not impossible. She also demonstrates what not to say, including: “It could be worse”; “Smile. It might never happen”; “Just take a pill”. She does helpfully suggest what does help. May sound counterintuitive, but this book is uplifting.


Henry Porter (Quercus: £14.99; e-book £7.49)

“Firefly” is the code name given to Naji, a 13 year old refugee boy who leaves his family to make his way to Germany, where he wants to register to make a new life for his parents and sister. He is also on the run from ISIS. Former intelligence officer, Paul Samson, is drafted in by MI6 to assist in tracing the boy. A cat and mouse journey ensues, beginning in the refugee camps of Greece and moving across borders. Samson ropes in others to assist, and between them they seek to catch up with Naji. However, a dramatic turn of events leaves both Samson and the boy exposed, at a time when the ISIS killers are closing in. Why do they pursue a 13 year old boy? He repaired the mobile devices of the ISIS fighters and given his intelligence, wit and ingenuity, realised they contained vital information.

This is a tightly drawn thriller of the best quality. Porter shows us the desolation and desperation of the refugees who seek to remove themselves from relentless terror to a more peaceful life in the west, the hardships they endure and the attempts made by state authorities to thwart their efforts. Naji is a truly believable character. He may be young, but what he has experienced in his short life has made him resilient and resourceful beyond his years. Samson is likewise an intriguing character: determined and unrelenting in his pursuit of justice. A worthy read.

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