Shivers abound in this Gothic page-turner

<!--StartFragment--> THE LITTLE STRANGER<br /><strong>By Sarah Waters</strong><br />VIRAGO, &pound;16.99<br /><br />THIS venerable, multi-award winning novelist (shortlisted for the Booker Prize twice with Fingersmith and Nightwatch) has returned to historical fiction with a blazing, immaculate Gothic ghost story set in postwar Britain. Welsh-born Waters is known for her Victorian lesbian drama and fans of that style might be sad the Sapphic element is missing.<br /><br />They won&rsquo;t be for long though: The Little Stranger creeps up on you with the methodical genius of its spooky but also sophisticated narrative and you&rsquo;ll have forgotten about same-sex romps in no time. It&rsquo;s 1947 and Britain is plugging along in a post-war stupor. The social fabric is changing forever with the rise of the middle classes and the growing impotence of the aristocracy. So it is with much unease that the penniless Ayreses, owners of the once-glorious Hundreds Hall in Warwickshire, watch as their house crumbles around them and life becomes something other than it used to be.<br /><br />One day, local physician Dr Faraday, who remembers the awesome grandeur of the Ayreses and Hundreds Hall from his childhood, is called to attend to an ill servant at the mansion. He soon &ndash; flatteringly &ndash; becomes friends with the family, only feeling the odd twinge of discomfort when they talk about the way things used to be. Soon, though, the deeply mundane setting of the book &ndash; sculpted by Waters&rsquo; tremendous eye for detail &ndash; starts to wobble. Tiny things begin to mar the surface of life at the house and before he knows it Faraday is wrapped in something terribly wrong. The denouement is short, sharp and very late, coming after hundreds of pages of chilling atmosphere and fuzzy facts. This is a goose-bump raising book as well as a fine piece of writing: Waters has triumphed again.<br />Zoe Strimpel<br /><br />A MOST WANTED MAN<br /><strong>By John le Carre<br /></strong>HODDER, PAPERBACK&nbsp;&pound;7.99<br /><br /> <!--StartFragment--> LE CARRE&nbsp;has chosen &ldquo;the other ground zero&rdquo;, his former Foreign Office haunt Hamburg, for the setting of his new thriller. As ever, he tackles international intrigue with his trademark restraint, thereby packing a bigger, smarter punch than something more flashy and violent would.<br /><br />Issa Karpov, a young and disaffected Chechen Muslim asylum-seeker, has arrived illegally in Germany. He has the key to a safety deposit box in a private bank which contains the dubiously acquired gains of his dead father, a KGB colonel. Dad sold secrets to British intelligence for substantial sums and kept them at Brue Freres, a private British bank in Hamburg.<br /><br />Now to Tommy Brue, a classic Le Carre hero: 60ish, self-loathing, lonely and fond of a good whisky. He has inherited Brue Freres, but it&rsquo;s a doomed business. In his office one night, he gets a phone call from a young woman lawyer (the woman part is probably most important), who demands to meet with him instantly. Meet Annabel Richter, Issa&rsquo;s devoted lawyer. Turns out Issa is in demand by three of the world&rsquo;s most powerful intelligence agencies.<br /><br />Understandably, as Tommy finds himself falling for Richter&rsquo;s busty intelligence and gutsiness, he becomes drawn into something far bigger than what he imagined, especially when it emerges that in a bid for an OBE, his father helped MI6 set up their payments to informants such as Issa&rsquo;s Russian father.<br /><br />The author&rsquo;s portrayal of Hamburg&rsquo;s world of mosques and Muslims is deft, and makes it clear why the Mohammad Attas of the world are drawn to the city. Classic Le Carre and well worth the read.<br />Zoe Strimpel<br /><br />COMMON SENSE RULES<br /><strong>By Deborah Meaden</strong><br />RANDOM HOUSE&nbsp;&pound;18.99<br /><br />IN HER first book, Dragon&rsquo;s Den panelist Deborah Meaden eschews the route her fellow Dragons have taken &ndash; autobiography with a little bit of business advice thrown in &ndash; to take the reverse approach. Her business book, with the subtitle &ldquo;what you really need to know about business&rdquo;, contains snippets of personal anecdotes and examples from companies she has run or invested in, including several or her Dragon&rsquo;s Den experiences, to illustrate the business fundamentals she tackles.<br /><br />Reflecting the no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is attitude that Meaden has on the telly, the book is a straightforward look at enterprise issues, with chapter headings such as &nbsp;&ldquo;what makes people invest&rdquo;, &ldquo;how do you turn your great idea into a great business&rdquo;, and &ldquo;building your brand&rdquo;. If it&rsquo;s hardly the most compelling or in-depth business book ever written, it has enough sage enough advice and workaday wisdom to be useful to those starting up small enterprises, or thinking of doing so. Meaden is also sensible enough to acknowledge the economic situation and gears things towards it.<br /><br />In between sections, Meaden takes on various business cliches that rouse her ire, such as &ldquo;every day is a new challenge&rdquo; or &ldquo;be proactive, not reactive&rdquo;, though one has the feeling these have been crow-barred in to make the book a little more dynamic.<br /><br />Meaden&rsquo;s not averse to cliches herself, with section titles such as &ldquo;the devil is in the detail&rdquo; and &ldquo;everything happens for a reason&rdquo;. There&rsquo;s enough worthy advice in here without the truism-bashing, though the smart money-manager might want to wait for the paperpack than shell-out almost 20 quid for the double-spaced, illustration-free hard back.<br />Timothy Barber