House swapping and geopolitcal disaster

PENGUIN, £6.99

MID-Atlantic at 35,000 feet, two couples pass in opposite directions. They are on the seemingly perfect credit crunch vacation, an international house swap with suitably affluent, never-to-be-seen hosts.

Sophie and Andrew Chapman leave their Victorian family home in south-west London, their teenage daughters and Sophie’s recent debilitating depression for the splendours of a colonial residence in rural Connecticut. Meanwhile, newly-weds William and Beth Stapleton swap their idyllic love nest in Connecticut and worries about Wall Street bonuses for the grittier environs of inner-city London and proximity to William’s three sons from his first marriage.

But with relationships, careers and finances under pressure, there is far more at stake than four weeks of rest and recuperation at the heart of Amanda Brookfield’s 14th novel, Before I Knew You.

Lost cats and cultural misunderstandings soon give way to niggling jealousies as Sophie and Beth fantasise about one another’s blissful lifestyles. But only when the couples return home do they find that their lives have become perilously entwined. Old alliances are tested. New alliances are forged. Painful secrets are revealed and lives are transformed as this acute and seductive novel twists and turns, delighting as it surprises.

Jonathan Hourigan

Corvus, £16.99

A THRILLER set in 2018, End Game imagines the next economic and political crisis that sees the US pitted against China. A post-Obama Republican, President Knowles is at the helm of the US when news breaks that a group of American charity workers have been killed in Uganda by an African Christian sect.

Knowles is looking to boost his mid-term ratings and a little military initiative in Africa is just the thing. First he checks with the Chinese in neighbouring Sudan to get the go ahead.

But Knowles is unaware of certain machinations in Beijing and crucially of the fact that a Wall Street hedge fund is about to destroy the value of a US bank in which the Chinese have a substantial stake. The novel takes a riveting turn through the options tendered by the political advisers, financial watchdogs and military establishments on both sides; the actions of Special Forces and the rising clamour of the world’s media as the crisis escalates towards catastrophe.

This impressive novel hurtles to a close with a climax that takes its cue from the finale of the Cuban missile crisis 50 years earlier. A solidly entertaining read.

Zoe Strimpel