How the Russian oligarchs came to rise and reign in boomtime London

<strong>LONDONGRAD</strong><br />BY MARK HOLLINGSWORTH AND STEWART LANSLEY<br /><strong>Fourth Estate, &pound;12.99</strong><br />ONE of the most visible signs of the times over the past few years has been the increasing Russification of London. The likes of Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, Oleg Deripaska, who made headlines when he entertained the then-EU trade minister Peter Mandelson and shadow chancellor George Osborne on his yacht in Corfu, and Alexander Lebedev, who recently bought the Evening Standard newspaper, have become favourites of gossip columnists and business journalists alike. Throw in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, and the death of Stephen Curtis, lawyer to the oligarchs whose helicopter mysteriously crashed in 2004, and you have some juicy tales indeed.<br /><br />This book is perhaps the definitive investigation of the oligarch phenomenon which rose and fell in the short years of the bubble of the past decade. <br />Beginning with the death of Curtis, a lawyer whose office at 94 Park Lane was the epicentre of Russian London (and who made a phenomenal fortune from smoothing Russians into British society), the authors go on an incredibly thoroughly-researched journey through the dubious deals, outrageous spending and gruesome power-battles that locked together this small group of men, many of whom made their money in the down-and-dirty world of Russia in the Yeltsin era. It&rsquo;s a gobsmacking, head-shaking read.<br /><br />Some of the spending is jaw-dropping &ndash; castles, townhouses in Kensington and &pound;10m-plus country residences in the Home Counties were all snapped up. Russians sent the art market into an insane stratosphere. Harrods never had it so good.<br /><br />Most telling, though, are not the perks that wealth brought these men but the dangers, or at least the perceived ones &ndash; tycoon Boris Berezovsky had his own private telephone network, and Abramovich owns two bomb-proof cars and his new yacht will have a missile-detection system.<br /><br />With the recession kicking in, the glory days might be gone for the oligarchs, but for anybody interested in these insanely wealthy, flashy hustlers, this is a gripping and compelling read.<br /><strong>Jeremy Hazlehurst</strong><br /><br /><strong>THE FAMILY MAN</strong><br />BY ELINOR LIPMAN<br /><strong>Headline, &pound;19.99</strong><br />THIS is Elinor Lipman&rsquo;s ninth novel and she has certainly perfected her form &ndash; slapstick meets romcom meets watertight writing style. Thought it&rsquo;s light stuff, with content more often seen on sitcoms than on book pages, The Family Man should delight anyone not in the mood for Tolstoy.<br /><br />The story revolves around Henry Archer, a recently-retired gay lawyer living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He only came out late in life, after his narcissistic, over-the-top wife Denise left him for a cardboard box magnate, and he has found a kind of balance at long last. But he is jolted out of his well-constructed daily routine when Denise gets in touch to invite him to her now-dead husband&rsquo;s funeral &ndash; and then to complain regularly about the nasty prenup she&rsquo;s been caught out in. It&rsquo;s not a chance to rekindle a friendship with her that piques the kindly Henry&rsquo;s interest &ndash; it&rsquo;s the possibility of seeing Thalia again, Denise&rsquo;s daughter and his much-loved step-child.<br /><br />He strikes up a relationship with the actress-waitress Thalia, who &ndash; it turns out &ndash; has been working at the salon where he has his hair cut. Next thing he knows, she&rsquo;s moved in with him. But rather than moving into more familiar territory here &ndash; the drama of inheriting a nightmare step-child that causes all manner of trouble &ndash; Lipman heaps the joys of family and love on Henry.<br /><br />This is a social comedy, acutely observed, and the asinine twang of the plot fades under the cosy warmth of Lipman&rsquo;s direction. This is a feel-good, well-written novel and a good alternative to watching a box-set of Friends.<br /><strong>Zoe Strimpel</strong><br /><br /><strong>INCENDIARY</strong><br />BY CHRIS CLEAVE<br /><strong>Sceptre, &pound;6.99</strong><br />CHRIS Cleave, author of bestseller The Other Hand, is pretty hardcore &ndash; the kind of author whose fiction is uncomfortably close to reality in that it embellishes and even distorts our worst fears. In this, his first novel, first published just after the 7/7 attacks in 2005 (but newly reprinted in paperback), a Cockney woman narrates a letter to Osama Bin Laden amid the savagery of a roiling city of bloodshed: London.<br /><br />Cleave&rsquo;s gruesome story imagines a May Day attack on the Arsenal football stadium, orchestrated by Bin Laden. It occurs while the narrator is enjoying some adultery on the sofa at home with a Sunday Telegraph writer. Her husband and son are at the match when she catches sight of the stadium exploding on the TV playing in the background. She gets her lover to drive her there, only to get herself badly injured. Later, in hospital, she learns the grisly fate of her &ldquo;chaps&rdquo;, who are burned beyond recognition.<br /><br />In the London of Incendiary, Muslims are sacked from their jobs and senior policemen happily bandy the term &ldquo;Johnny Arab&rdquo; about. It&rsquo;s a city of immoral abandon, a crazed society of excess and lust that, as Cleave paints it, is every bit deserving of Bin Laden&rsquo;s wrath. Eventually, the narrator realises that the British people are as responsible for the Arsenal attack as the terrorist mastermind himself.<br /><br />Clearly, this is an objectionable &ndash; and hackneyed &ndash; view. Granted, this is fiction, and Cleave&rsquo;s London is a hell-hole with the racist, corrupt police its crowning glory. But still, first released so close to the 7/7 attacks, Incendiary was seen as an uncomfortable, tasteless foray into imagination, and making comparisons between liberal democracies and terrorist cells is never a good idea.<br /><br />But Cleave is clever and this is a compulsive read, sure to stir the dust. Perhaps enough time has passed since 2005 for it to be read with the detachment needed to enjoy its dark, vivid strength. <br /><strong>ZS</strong>