The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
Jailed for 10 years for a crime he didn't even know he'd committed, small-town Virginia lawyer Malcolm Bannister sees his chance for escape in John Grisham's The Racketeer (Hodder, £19.99) when a federal judge is found murdered.
He alone knows the identity and motive of the killer, which he's willing to trade for early release and a place in the witness protection programme.
But Malcolm is intent on winning more than his freedom. He also wants revenge on the crooked system that put him away.
Grisham returns to his legal thriller roots, using this highly entertaining caper to continue his ongoing expose of the almost comically nightmarish and random US judicial system.
There's satire with less serious targets in Jesse Kellerman's I'll Catch You (Sphere, £6.99).
Arthur is a middle-aged professor, whose youthful ambition of writing a Great American Novel has long since died.
When his oldest friend - a bestselling author of dreadful adventure stories - is lost at sea, Arthur stumbles across a chance for overnight commercial success. All it'd take is a little bit of plagiarism and surely that can't do any harm?
This very funny and ingeniously plotted dismantling of the conspiracy thriller genre also mercilessly mocks the pretensions and hypocrisies of the literary world.
Carnival For The Dead by David Hewson (Pan, £7.99) is another playful crime novel albeit one with a distinctively gothic flavour.
Forensic pathologist Teresa Lupo travels from Rome to Venice to search for her missing aunt Sofia who, Teresa learns, is a very different character from the eccentric bohemian she idolised in childhood.
It's winter and Venice is cold and wet, its streets empty after dark. The locals are preparing for the annual carnival and everyone seems obsessed with the traditional costumes and sinister masks.
Teresa begins to receive, anonymously, semi-factual stories in which she, her aunt and her aunt's neighbours and friends appear as characters.
Are these bizarre manuscripts written by Sofia's abductor, or even by Sofia herself?
Venice has long been a favourite setting for crime fiction but this dense, rich, chilling yet always charming novel gives us a fresh view of the City of Masks.
We move to mainland Italy for Reasonable Doubts by Gianrico Carofiglio (Bitter Lemon Press, £7.99), a courtroom drama set in the port of Bari.
There defence lawyer Guido Guerrieri is hired to prepare an appeal for local man Fabio who's been convicted of drug smuggling.
Fabio swears he's innocent but his rather unconvincing defence is that his initial confession was coerced and that the cocaine was hidden in his car during his foreign holiday by persons unknown.
There's a further complication. When Guido was a teenager he was a member of a leftist group that was beaten up by a fascist street gang and he recognises his new client as one of the thugs.
Carofiglio's lean, sharp novels are as refreshing as a sorbet and Guido, melancholy and philosophical, is in the classic tradition of hardboiled heroes.
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