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
The reader could be forgiven for assuming that Rare Earth, the first foray into fiction by Newsnight's economics editor Paul Mason, is little more than an extended libel against the Communist Party of China, if not the whole nation.
The cartoonish front cover doesn't help. Neither does the orientalist mention of feng-shui on the first page.
Yet Mason is too thorough a journalist and too engaging an author to construct anything other than a remarkably multidimensional account of China's struggles with a social market economy.
He paints the conflicts of greed and principles, freedom and order in outrageously vivid hues, proving that fiction can tell big truths that factual accounts sometimes miss.
In a style that is less magical realism and more farcical realism, Mason reveals modern China through the eyes of both an underbriefed Western TV crew and an old-school police chief as they travel across the remote parts of the country.
What they see is a society that is certainly awash with corruption, enviro-crimes and a geopolitical obsession with those all-important parts of the periodic table - the rare earth in question.
But equally Mason cuts against the lazy stereotyping by showing emancipated women, workers fighting back and an unquenchable idealism among some members of the Communist Party of China.
Mason does sex well, the book's many robust bonking scenes presumably evidence of careful BBC-style research.
There are also passages of sublime humour as when Xiao, the policeman, starts his undercover operation from a local railway terminus only to suffer his cover being blown continuously as everyone recognises him.
And Mason writes poignantly as well.
The plight of the Cancer Village commune is starkly described. Once into his investigations Xiao is handed hundreds of stolen ID cards and reflects perplexedly that these have been sold on by corrupt officials.
This is a compelling book. But I do think the Communist Party of China deserves a right of reply.