Drama in the Deep South

FORD COUNTY
BY JOHN GRISHAM
ARROW PAPERBACK, £7.99
BY ZOE STRIMPEL

John Grisham, trusty friend of travelling businessmen for 20 years, is the definition of “best-selling author”. But what distinguishes him from the slews of so-called best-selling thriller writers, many of them attempting to be just like him, is the watertight quality of his writing that still manages to contain multitudes. Grisham does not need to show off with grand flourishes – his plot does the talking.

This foray into short stories is no different. The setting is Ford County, Mississippi, which readers of Grisham’s iconic first novel, A Time To Kill, will recognise. The town is Clanton, population 10,000.

The stories range from the light-hearted to the gut-wrenching. From a hard-drinking, downtrodden divorce lawyer looking for pay-dirt, to a manipulative death row inmate with one last plea, this is a feast of entertaining scoundrels, usually with a dark edge.

In Blood Drive, a man is injured in a construction accident, leading three friends to go on a beer-fuelled road trip to his bedside, with the aim of donating blood. It doesn’t quite work out that way. In Fish Files, a middle-aged lawyer with a bad marriage and children who detest him suddenly happens on a load of ill-gotten money. His dream of starting afresh a million miles away suddenly becomes attainable. In Fetching Raymond, two poor white brothers drive with their mother to a prison where their brother is to be executed for murder.

Poignant and impossible to put down, this is a must-read for your summer holiday.

THE SPIRIT LEVEL DELUSION
BY CHRISTOPHER SNOWDEN
LITTLE DICE, £8.94
BY PHILIP BOOTH

THOSE who work in the City will be acutely aware of the continual banker-bashing in the wake of the financial crash. It will be of little comfort for bankers to know that they are not alone. Throughout the last eight years there has been a series of books that have bashed all wealth accumulation. Indeed, they have suggested that creating equality should be the main driving force behind economic policy – even if it stops the poor getting richer.

The Spirit Level was one such book. Those on the left regarded it as a “game changer” that demonstrated everything they ever knew but could not prove. The Spirit Level purported to show that infant mortality, mental illness and a host of other social ills were the consequence of inequality. It argued that making the poor richer would not help them as long as society remained unequal.

I had strong suspicions about this hypothesis and now a book has come along which I strongly recommend. The Spirit Level Delusion not only successfully and dramatically undermines much of the evidence in The Spirit Level, but also takes on the other fashionable opponents of economic growth. Author Christopher Snowden finds that social ills have many causes and that we need an economic system – free-market capitalism – that encourages economic growth if we are to have a flourishing society. His engaging discussion unpicks the evidence of the anti-growth brigade and demonstrates that it is selective and partial. This book is excellent “tube reading”. Philip Booth is Editorial and Programme Director, Institute of Economic Affairs

GENTLEMEN & BLACKGUARDS
BY NICHOLAS FOULKES
ORION BOOKS, £18.99
BY TIM BARBER

TOWARDS the end of last year, Fifty St James, the grandiose high-rollers’ casino at the top of St James’s Street, went into administration and closed its doors. It was the original home of Crockford’s, the fashionable joint where the likes of the Duke of Wellington, the Count d’Orsay and Disraeli risked their wealth.

Back then, such illegal gambling dens – even those as opulent as Crockford’s – were known tellingly as “hells”, and in the eyes of many were as far from distinguished as you could get, no matter how esteemed the patrons. This we learn in Nicholas Foulkes’s engrossing account of London’s 19th century gambling scene, a book full of delightfully disreputable characters centring on the scandal which engulfed The Derby horse race in 1844.

The recent tribulations of the Jockey Club have nothing on this. Back then, racing was both a national obsession and utterly crooked. High society would grind to a halt when Derby Day came along, while the growing army of moralists tutted at the gambling free-for-all. In 1844 things came to a head in a sensational court case surrounding a fraudulent winner and the vaunting ambition of the book’s villain, the monstrously spiteful stud owner, MP and hypocritical crusader for honesty, Lord George Bentinck.

In his elegantly written, supremely entertaining chronicle, Foulkes uses the Derby as a platform from which to unpick 19th century England as the moral tide turned away from “cheerful amorality” to the austerity of the High Victorian era. It’s fascinating stuff.

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