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The Butt

By Will Self (Bloomsbury, pounds 14.99) 1993's My Idea Of Fun excepted, Will Self has been a London novelist. The London may be inhabited by apes or the dead, it may be drowned and dreamt, but it is still emphatically London. Not this time. The Butt is set in a country which is never named, but clearly modelled on Australia. However, the great geological feature at its heart is Eyre's Pit rather than Ayers Rock, and that is not the only change - most obviously, the "security situation" in the interior has echoes of Iraq.

Protagonist Tom Brodzinski's not even a Londoner abroad; though his homeland is likewise nameless, he's American. On holiday, and resolved to quit smoking, his final cigarette butt hits an old man; an act treated as deliberate assault, the butt described in court as "a projectile weapon with a toxic payload In part, Self's target is the absurd immorality of kowtowing to local mores through fear of diplomatic incidents; in part, the clouds of sanctimonious hysteria increasingly found around smoking. Which is not to suggest Brodzinski comes out of it well; he's an archetype of Western arrogance and ignorance, bumbling through a country he has half-heartedly researched online but is nowhere near understanding.

The publishers seize on The Butt's remote setting to compare it to GrahamGreene, and in the local laws which say there's no such thing as an accident, set against Tom's own naive belief in the importance of good intentions, there is perhaps something of Greene's fascination with the nature of sin, albeit reduced to black absurdity. It's closer to the vertiginous philosophical satires of Borges or Kafka, though - updated with details such as the destruction lucratively wrought by obscure financial instruments, and the dangers of 'community' law. Not necessarily a satisfying book, but a savagely fascinating one

A Killing Frost

By R.D Wingfield (Bantam Press, pounds 14.99) THANKS to the award-winning A Touch of Frost television series, David Jason has made a household name of police detective Jack Frost.

It may come as something of a surprise to telly viewers that the dishevelled detective has been around in print for 25 years.

A Killing Frost is the sixth and final Jack Frost novel, completed by R D Wingfield in 2007, just before his death.

The author was never convinced by David Jason's portrayal of his creation - and as a first-time reader of Frost, it's easy to see why.

On the page, Jack is a much darker character, a chain smoking, extremely unconventional officer who won't hesitate in bending the rules if it gets him a rightful conviction.

A Killing Frost boasts a plot jam-packed with twists and turns. There are so many crimes going on at once that Jack really has his work cut out to solve them all. And the reader needs to be on full alert to keep up with the novel's cracking pace. An added complication is the arrival of a new DCI who is hell-bent on ousting the renegade Frost from Denton and sending him to another division.

As the crime rate soars along with Jack's alcohol consumption, Jack is under pressure to come up with the goods once more. Is the scheming DCI Skinner about to get his way, and consign our hero to the wilderness?

One thing's for certain, Jack Frost won't be leaving without a fight.

This is a fitting farewell to the writing talents of R D Wingfield, and a superb swan song for a much-loved character. A most enjoyable read.

Killing Rommel

By Steven Pressfield (Doubleday, pounds 12.99) ONE of the British Army's most stirring victories provides the backdrop for this tale of life, death and valour in the North African desert.

The Eighth Army's triumph at El Alamein in 1942 eventually drove Rommel's Afrika Korps off the continent.

It was a massivemorale booster for the Allies and paved the way for the invasion of Nazi Europe.

At the vanguard of the battle were some of the first Special Forces units, including the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), who were sent ahead to scout the deadly desert terrain and generally cause havoc for the Axis forces.

Their exploits quickly became the stuff of legend and have been memorably brought to life by US historical fiction author Steven Pressfield.

In the formof a no-nonsensememoir by a plucky young British officer, he describes a fact-based LRDG attempt to kill the wily Desert Fox himself and thereby decapitate the Axis forces at a single stroke.

It sees Lt Lawrence "Chap" Chapman truck off into the oven-hot desert with a posse of mainly NewZealand and British colleagues, and what follows is a vivid account of the mission and the men involved.

Included are some searing action sequences, lots of thirst-inducing details about life in the desert, and a thought-provoking illustration of the sorts of people drawn to war.

Pressfield - who has written a string of bestsellers about epic clashes in ancient Greece - perfectly captures Chapman's English character and the inhospitable nature of a region so remote that some of the marks left by the Second World War armies still linger today.

His book is a good deal more than just a boys' own tale of behind-the-lines action. It becomes a moving and convincing paean to the comradeship of war - sometimes between soldiers of opposing sides as an unexpected twist demonstrates.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 19, 2008
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