When weather is a matter of life and death

TURBULENCE<br /><strong>By Giles Foden</strong><br />FABER &amp; FABER, &pound;16.99<br /><br />GILES FODEN&rsquo;S The Last King of Scotland was a masterful book and became a masterful film because of its compelling combination of historical fact, fiction and painstakingly realised detail in an unusual context. It is reason enough for Turbulence, his latest piece of historical fiction, to be read with respectful attention. And it does not disappoint &ndash; though perhaps it lacks the gruesome gravitas of The Last King.<br /><br />It&rsquo;s 1944 and the D-Day mission is in progress. But in order to stage the invasion, there&rsquo;s one thing that is of critical importance: the weather. It is in search of a solution to the problem of inaccurate weather forecasting that Cambridge man and maths genius Henry Meadows is sent to remotest Scotland in search of the Ryman Number, the secret mathematical formula for &ldquo;turbulence&rdquo; or meteorological disturbance. To succeed he must extract the formula from its architect, the reclusive Wallace Ryman. Yet winning the confidence of Ryman is a delicate, befuddling matter, as he&rsquo;s a Quaker, retired from science, and pursuing Peace Studies in his village. Indeed, mathematical genius and impetuous man that he is, Meadows gets it wrong and his misguided approach leads to a tragedy that sends him home on a downward spiral. <br /><br />The story is told from the vantage point of an old, scientifically established Meadows, en route from Antarctica to Saudi Arabia in a boat made from ice and wood pulp. This is not your average narrator, nor are the maths, historical rigour and tightness of plot the stuff of your average novel. Weather, WW2 and the delicate nature of human endeavour are admirably portrayed here.<br /><br />D-DAY: THE BATTLE FOR NORMANDY<br /><strong>By Antony Beevor</strong><br />VIKING, &pound;25<br /><br />SANDHURST-trained Antony Beevor was an Army officer and left the service to write. His Stalingrad (1998) won the Samuel Johnson Prize and numerous others, and Berlin (2002) clinched him as a heavyweight of World War II history. There&rsquo;s nothing dry about Beevor: this is manly, fast-paced writing that nevertheless is unstinting in it&rsquo;s retelling of detail. He&rsquo;s been described as having a truffle-smelling calibre nose for rooting out the best of the archives. The result is at its most glorious in D-Day, which not only tells with bloody detail the magnitude of the operation, but embellishes it with testimony that makes it real. <br /><br />The sheer ingenuity and unexpected force of the siege is staggering &ndash; the largest amphibious attack in history. But what seemed at first to be a surefire win became a nightmarish battle in which the savage ferocity of the Germans and the landscape of the Normandy coast conspired against the Allied effort. Even at the landing, German machine-gunners wreaked havoc &ndash; the US Air Force dropped 13,000 tons of bombs but they all missed in the attempt to avoid hitting the armada. As one sergeant from Wisconsin observed of the German killing spree: &ldquo;Men were tumbling like corn cobs off a conveyor belt.&rdquo; But as Beevor makes clear, it wasn&rsquo;t just the Americans and British that paid heavily to liberate Normandy &ndash; French civilian losses were huge too. In the first 24 hours of Operation Overlord, more than 3,000 were killed, double the number of American GIs who died on Omaha Beach. <br /><br />This is a gripping and deeply informed book by a master of his subject. It should be read by anyone with an interest in either the Second World War or military history. <br /><br />RUMOUR HAS IT<br /><strong>By Jill Mansell</strong><br />HEADLINE, &pound;7.99<br /><br />THERE are flowers and birds on the cover of this book, signalling the fact that there are certainly more serious ways to spend your time. But then again, what&rsquo;s wrong with entering a pink and jolly mental space as you take the Tube home from a busy day at work? What&rsquo;s wrong with unwinding, cheering up, and relaxing even as you sit hemmed in by hundreds of other commuters? Nothing at all. And if you&rsquo;re going to read chick lit, you&rsquo;re in good hands with Jill Mansell.<br /><br />Tilly Cole comes home from work in London one day to find her boyfriend has walked out on her. On an impulse, she quits her job and moves to a small town in the Cotswolds for a fresh start. But silly her for thinking she was escaping the stress of London &ndash; instead she finds herself in a hotbed of gossip, intrigue and fearsome competition for the best men on the market. Tilly just wants to get on with her new life and men aren&rsquo;t part of that. <br /><br />That is, until the irresistible Jack Lucas appears on the scene. He&rsquo;s got his eye on Tilly too, but the shocking rumours about his reputation put Tilly on her guard. After all, she doesn&rsquo;t want to be a notch on anyone&rsquo;s bedpost. But in turning him down, could she be missing out on the love of her life? Worry not, she finds a way to make things work. Mansell&rsquo;s got a loyal following and for those after a bit of saccharine sweetness after a long day, this book shows why.<br />