Best of the new books
1415: Henry V's Year of Glory, By Ian Mortimer VINTAGE £8.99
Ian Mortimer's decision to tell this story in diary format, giving us an almost day-by-day account, would not have suited every historical study, but in this instance was a stroke of genius. The danger would have been an excess of extraneous detail, but Mortimer's instinct is superb and what we get instead is the mythical hero-king - immortalised by the Laurence Olivier film - rendered suddenly human and close.
Mortimer shows Henry as a king who will intervene to save the life of a bishop's servant, and a warrior who doesn't spare prisoners; as a man who presided over an almost exclusively male court, and whose real passion was for religion. ('All leaders who go to war in the name of God are either zealous or hypocrites... Henry was both.')
Once his incursion into France begins, after plots against him and the burning of religious martyrs, the diary really comes into its own, giving us a daily roll call of dead knights and increasing expenses. The immediacy of the format makes Henry real and flawed; a disturbed but compelling individual.
Boffinology, By Justin Pollard JOHN MURRAY, £12.99 (324PP) £11.69 FROM THE INDEPENDENT BOOKSHOP: 08430 600 030
After encountering the weird odds and ends in this book of scientific quirks - the 'Halifax gibbet', invented for the dispatch of Yorkshire miscreants, was a predecessor of the guillotine; heroin, invented by the Bayer company, takes its name from heroisch because it made one user feel heroic; an Indiana mathematician persuaded his state to grant him a patent for pi at the incorrect value of 3.2 - the reader may recall a TV programme that specialises in unlikely revelations.
It comes as no surprise that the author is a researcher for QI, and his book is equally addictive. Typical is the story of how James Chadwick, discoverer of the neutron, continued his researches while incarcerated in Germany during the First World War by amassing radioactive toothpaste.
Trick of the Dark, By Val McDermid
LITTLE, BROWN, £18.99 Order for £17.09 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Despite once claiming that she was never going to make a living out of lesbian crime fiction, Val McDermid might have to eat her words with Trick of the Dark.
The main characters in this standalone novel are lesbians and, given the corpses that litter the pages, there is plenty of criminal activity too. If it sells as well as her recent titles, she needn't be too worried about the mortgage.
It begins with clinical psychiatrist Charlie Flint suspended from her job, frustrated with life and tempted to embark on an affair despite several happy years of marriage with Maria. So when an envelope arrives addressed to her, full of cuttings about a recent murder but no mention of the identity of the sender, she welcomes investigating it as a distraction from real life.
Enrich your mind with a selection of the latest fiction and non fiction books.
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