A fraught journey through exile, family and religion

Simon & Schuster, £12.99

AYAAN Hirsi Ali is one of the political world’s most direct speakers – if not its most direct. Even the most controversial commentators balk at using her kind of polarising terminology and crystalline rhetoric. In part this is because 40-year old Ali, who works at neo-conservative think tank The American Enterprise Institute and is now dating historian Niall Ferguson, has the history to support the most hard-talking of talk. Hirsi Ali grew up in a tribal Muslim community in Somalia and was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood before becoming disenchanted with her religion as she saw it being practised.

Nomad follows on from her autobiography Infidel, in which she charts her evolution from circumcised tribal daughter to Dutch MP and scholar of Enlightenment theories of liberalism. It was by bolting from an arranged marriage that she stumbled on life in tolerant Holland and eventually not only cast her faith aside, but grew to see its role and development in the West as one of the most important issues of today. She also became an advocate of Muslim women’s rights.

Following the murder of Theo Van Gogh, with whom she made Subjection, a deeply controversial film that put her life in grave danger, she fled Holland. Her exile to America prompted her study of the whys and wherefores of immigrant, Western-dwelling Muslim communities, a meditation which has taken the form of Nomad. This “journey through the clash of civilisations” (she is no small thinker) begins with a visit to her dying, estranged father in London, then goes to her mother, her siblings and their family lives. From her probing of the decline and dissolution of her own nomadic family a frightening thesis emerges. For anyone interested in the relationship between the West and religion, Nomad – like Ali’s other books – is an indispensable read, and the combination of Ali’s life story with her sharp socio-political thought proves potent in the extreme.

John Murray, £7.99

IT’S Christmas Eve, 1931, and Maisie Dobbs, “Psychologist and Private Investigator” witnesses a man blow himself up by hand grenade on a busy London street. Next day, the Home Office receives a letter threatening a mass homicide by nerve gas if certain demands are not met, including immediate action to alleviate the suffering of the unemployed, and to see to it that help is given to those who have served the country in wartime.

This is a lovely noirish outing for Dobbs, in which Winspear focuses on the fall-out from the Great War, and brilliantly evokes a dark, roiling, dangerous London, with an “unyielding quality of grey light that makes the word Merry Christmas seem hardly worth saying.”

On receipt of the saliva-soiled letter, Maisie is called into Special Branch offices as an adviser on the case, and becomes involved in a race against time to find a man who soon proves he has the know-how and will to murder thousands of innocent people. Maisie must navigate – and triumph over – a labyrinth darker than any she has encountered since she was a nurse in wards full of shell-shocked men.

It’s a terrorist threat plot, but set far enough in our past to be read with detached pleasure. Winspear’s writing is a joy, and Dobbs a breath of fresh air in the world of male-dominated thrillers. A wonderfully atmospheric read, perfect for Londoners.

John Murray, £7.99

AH, THE American courtroom drama. Done well, nothing beats it – our appetite for TV depictions of cops and lawyers wrangling for justice is enormous. Done well on the page, it’s an equally gripping delight – done badly, eye-rollingly awful. Well, Texas-based lawyer Mark Gimenez does it well, very well. There is quite a mass of lawyers-turned-writers too, and again, the standard is variable.

Gimenez is born for the quill, though, and for this reason is being widely called “the next John Grisham”. Some even feel this title is too modest for him as his fifth novel reaches book shelves.

This is the second outing of attorney A. Scott Fenney. Here, he is out of the stable defending his former wife against the allegation that she killed her boyfriend, millionaire golf star Trey Rawlins, and the man she left Fenney for. “Scott, it’s Rebecca. I need you” are the words that break their long silence.

It doesn’t look good: her fingerprints are found on the knife sticking out of Rawlins’ chest – but if there’s one thing Fenney likes, it’s a challenge. Indeed, if Rebecca is found guilty, she will be sentenced to life imprisonment. Her future is in his hands – but as Fenney prepares to take the stand in the most dramatic courtroom appearance of his life, he realises the stakes are higher than he ever thought they’d be. Let’s just say those feelings about his ex are not quite put to bed yet.

And Scott’s not just a dramatic legal hero – he is believable as a man; his daughters and his four associates, who all feature throughout the book, are proper people.

Brilliant writing, masterful plot and all the thrill of the courtroom in one.

Grisham, step aside.

Related articles