A second dose of the fabulous freakish truth

<strong>SUPERFREAKONOMICS</strong><br />BY STEPHEN DUBNER AND STEVEN LEVITT<br /><strong>PENGUIN, &pound;20.00</strong><br /><br />WRITING a sequel to one of best-selling pop economics books of the last decade was always going to be hard. And it took Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner more than four years to create Superfreakonomics, the &ldquo;freakquel&rdquo; to their original collaboration, Freakonomics. <br /><br />Like the original, Superfreakonomics delves into a wide range of issues. The authors find that prostitutes&rsquo; salaries have fallen over the past century because of increased competition from women now prepared to have pre-marital sex for free and that doctors underreport the frequency with which they wash their hands. And a study into primate behaviour reveals some disturbing consequencess of teaching monkeys the value of money &ndash; think crime and prostitution. <br /><br />Superfreakonomics takes a witty and fresh look at these issues &ndash; always useful when applying dry economic theory to interesting topics and analysing reams of statistics &ndash; and comes up with some surprising and controversial conclusions. <br /><br />In the first chapter, Levitt and Dubner tell us that they would be disappointed if critics didn&rsquo;t find a few things to quarrel with in the book. And they have been proved right &ndash; their chapter that questioned the science behind climate change has already sparked a media furore. They have been criticised by climate scientists for making what they say are fundamental errors, and misrepresenting their case.<br /><br />But to concentrate just on this one chapter is to detract from the rest of the book, which manages to take economic concepts and illustrate them in a funny and engaging way. Jessica Mead<br /><br /><strong>THE SCARPETTA FACTOR</strong><br />BY PATRICIA CORNWELL LITTLE<br /><strong>BROWN &pound;18.99</strong><br /><br />EVERY crime book these days seems to be a &ldquo;bestseller&rdquo; but one writer who in a league of her own is Patricia Cornwell, who counts Demi Moore among her friends and has a past that includes a drunk driving conviction, a lesbian marriage, anorexia and an abusive relationship with her late father. More importantly, her crime writing is based on genuine experience, first as a crime reporter, then as founder of the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine. <br /><br />Cornwell&rsquo;s onto her 17th Kay Scarpetta novel and the heroine &ndash; a forensic specialist &ndash; is just as stressed and hard-nosed as ever, as rigorous in her analysis of the bodies that come her way as some women might be with a potential pair of new Jimmy Choos. It&rsquo;s the week before Christmas and the recession has prompted Dr Scarpetta to offer her services pro bono to the New York Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. <br /><br />In doing so she sets an unsettling chain of events in motion, starting with the suspicious bomb-like parcel waiting at her apartment after she makes an appearance on a chat show to discuss a sensational case. She soon finds herself in a dark plot involving a famous actor accused of a heinous sex crime and the disappearance of a beautiful millionaire. <br /><br />Cornwell is a master of detail and the lurid business of crime and death in New York is skillfully integrated with a complex, shocking plot and a deeply sympathetic heroine. Cornwell fans will settle right in, newcomers won&rsquo;t believe what they&rsquo;ve been missing. Zoe Strimpel<br /><br /><strong>MELTDOWN</strong><br />BY BEN ELTON LITTLE<br /><strong>RANDOM HOUSE &pound;18.99</strong><br /><br />BEN Elton, tireless comedian-about-town and master of all media, seems really quite behind the curve with this one. With a barrage of credit-crunch inspired books released over the last year, some of them pretty good, it feels wrong that Elton is now &ndash; over a year after the fact and in the midst of what cautious types are calling shoots of recovery &ndash; releasing a book about a City trader floundering in sudden cashlessness and insecurity after the markets collapsed.<br /><br />Jimmy Corby graduated from Sussex in 1993 along with his five best friends, named things like Robbo and Rupert, who &ndash; Elton says in his cynical patter &ndash; were to stick together through good times and bad and through thick and thin, even though until 2008, there really were only thick times and good. There was Jimmy partying on the beach in Ibiza with a bottle of Krug between his legs and two chicks by his side. There he was &ldquo;shouting himself hoarse during an all-nighter with the Tokyo Exchange&rdquo; and being &ldquo;pissed up at 5AM in a pub with some of the guys watching a live fight from Vegas.&rdquo;<br /><br />Thankfully Jimmy had Monica &ndash; he&rsquo;s &ldquo;as lucky in love as he was on trading dodgy derivatives&rdquo; &ndash; to keep him from burning out and entering rehab. But luck can be a curse, too, when it leaves you wholly unprepared for a revesal of luck. Which is just what stitches Jimmy up, and his ability to cope when things go pear-shaped is bad, to say the least. At one point, worryingly near the end of the book, Jimmy and Monica both decide to become novelists, like JK Rowling, to solve their fiscal problems.<br /><br />Elton has a solid comic style, that&rsquo;s for sure. The book will raise the odd smile and to its credit, it doesn&rsquo;t take anything &ndash; including itself &ndash; seriously. But that&rsquo;s not enough to recommend a novel that&rsquo;s missed its moment and has nothing much else to offer. ZS