Cricket's divine comedy, from WG to pedalos

AND GOD CREATED CRICKET<br /><strong>By Simon Hughes</strong><br />DOUBLEDAY, &pound;20<br />WITH the Ashes series approaching, the minds of anybody who has ever enjoyed a sleepy afternoon listening to the thwack of leather on willow (or enjoyed the considerably more rowdy pleasures of the Western Terrace at Headingly) will be turning to cricketing matters.<br /><br />There&rsquo;s no better accompaniment to a cricketing summer than this book by a former county player and TV pundit. Thankfully, rather than going down the dusty, Wisden-ish route of rolling out statistics, he concentrates on the game&rsquo;s characters. Obviously, there is no shortage.<br /><br />Hughes&rsquo; tale begins in the swirling mists of cricketing pre-history (was it really first played by 14th century shepherds?) and goes though the early giants such as WG Grace. In the 20th century, he looks at the big names and the big events, the emergence of the West Indies in the Seventies and Eighties and the geniuses, crooks, tricksters and gamblers who have always been part of the game. Hughes knows that sledging and boozing (think of Freddie Flintoff and his pedalo) are as much a part of cricket as charming county games watched by dozing pensioners, and by embracing that he raises this book well above the tweeness that is often associated with backward-looking cricket books.<br /><br />It&rsquo;s all done with real knowledge and passionately-held opinions, too, making it the very best book to accompany your summer&rsquo;s viewing. <br /><br />Jeremy Hazlehurst<br /><br />GENESIS<br /><strong>By Karin Slaughter</strong><br />CENTURY, &pound;18.99<br />KARIN SLAUGHTER is a very cool customer. She&rsquo;s got a blonde pixie cut and a devilish glint in her eye. She divides her time, says the blurb for this book, &ldquo;between the kitchen and the living room&rdquo; at her house in Atlanta where she churns out bestsellers (Blindsighted, Kisscut and A Faint Cold Fear are among previous international number ones).<br /><br />And though the blood-spattered covers of her books imply trash, Slaughter is not half-bad as a writer. &ldquo;Judith had always been at the opposite spectrum of Marx&rsquo;s philosophy &ndash; Groucho not Karl: she was more than willing to join any club that would have her as a member,&rdquo; she quips.<br /><br />The story revolves around Atlanta-based doctor Sarah Linton, a former County medical examiner with a tragic past. When a car crash victim arrives naked and assaulted in the ER at her hospital, she finds herself drawn back into a world of violence and terror &ndash; it&rsquo;s clear the woman has been the prey of a twisted mind.<br /><br />Special agent Will Trent and his partner Faith arrive on the case. When Trent returns to the scene of the crash, he stumbles on a torture chamber buried deep beneath the earth. This finding opens up a nasty truth: the abused woman in the ER is just one of a string of victims of an unbelievably sick serial killer. It becomes clear that only Will, Faith and Sarah stand between his next murder. Slaughter writes sick-making thrillers, so lurid and gruesome you wonder where she got the ideas from. But by that same token, they&rsquo;re impossible to put down, this one included.<br /><br />Zoe Strimpel<br /><br />FACTS ARE SUBVERSIVE <br /><strong>By Timothy Garton Ash</strong><br />ATLANTIC, &pound;25<br />GARTON ASH, a professor of European Studies at Oxford and a senior fellow at Stanford&rsquo;s Hoover Institution, is a liberal blue-blood and a darling of the political intelligentsia. His work is syndicated round Europe and appears regularly in the New York Review of Books.<br /><br />The title is a quote from the US journalist IF Stone, who sought to keep his journalistic integrity in a swirling world of political and media manipulation. That was in the 1940s &ndash; since then our world has become utterly swamped by facts that may or not be true. In our age of comment &ndash; blogs, YouTube, 24 hour news &ndash; the facts are ever harder, and more important, to ascertain, which is why Garton Ash&rsquo;s title rings very true indeed.<br /><br />Still, at the start, the book seems based on something bewilderingly broad. &ldquo;Facts are subversive. Subversive of the claims made by democratically elected leaders, biographers and autobiographers. If we had known the facts about Saddam Hussein&rsquo;s supposed weapons of mass destruction, the British Parliament might not have voted to go to war in Iraq.&rdquo; Is this what the whole book is going to set out to prove? <br /><br />Don&rsquo;t trouble yourself with it too much. Just enjoy what is a collection of Ash&rsquo;s essays and articles, based on eye-witness accounts of countries as they shed their dictators (including Serbia, Poland and Ukraine), and you&rsquo;ll see how the interplay of fact, fiction, spying, media and manipulation is indeed fascinating and all-important stuff. <br /><br />If you can get past the title, this is a must-read for anyone interested in the past, present and future of the world&rsquo;s most enigmatic regimes. <br /><br />&nbsp;ZS<br />