May 8, 2021

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Mirror Book Club: Jonas Jonasson confirms his status as ‘the best comic novelist alive’


Medical Grade Music

Steve Davis and Kavus Torabi

White Rabbit, £20

What could six-time snooker world champion Steve Davis and Kavus Torabi, co-founder of hip indie math rock band The Monsoon Bassoon, possibly have in common?

The pair seem to go together as naturally as Hurricane Higgins and sobriety.

But this amiable, unusual and occasionally impenetrable book is about a friendship forged through a shared love of avant-garde music, and their recent rebirth as The Utopia Strong, a trippy psychedelic trio completed by Michael J York from Coil.

The two men recall their intertwining musical passions with self-effacing wit and no small measure of detail.

Steve, who became a techno DJ “by accident”, begins his journey in South London as a teenage fan of bands such as Henry Cow and Captain Beefheart, before jazz funk and jazz fusion caught his ear.

In Plymouth, for Kavus – the Tehran-born son of an Iranian doctor and a nurse from Hull – life changed when he heard the Stray Cats’ feral rockabilly in 1980.

He played guitar with bands including Guapo, Gong and death metal combo Die Laughing, and mockingly refers to his “meteoric ascent from anonymity to obscurity”.

The pair met at a Magma gig in Paris 12 years ago and Steve invited Kavus onto his show on community radio station Phoenix FM. They got on like a synthesiser on fire, and Kavus ended up as co-host.

Their leap from DJ-ing to forming a band seems to surprise even them.

Steve, now 63, had no musical training and admits that initially he was as much in control of his synth “as Frank Spencer… with a chainsaw”.

He and Kavus, 49, share a lifelong love of left-field sounds worthy of John Peel, and an anorak’s attention to trivia. You don’t need to know the difference between Egg and the Orgasm Guerrillas to enjoy this book.

But it probably helps.

Men Who Hate Women and One Two Three Four are out now
Men Who Hate Women and One Two Three Four are out now

Watch Her Fall

Erin Kelly

Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99

Erin Kelly, author of He Said She Said and The Poison Tree, returns with a whipsmart novel set in the world of top-flight ballet.

London Russian Ballet dancer Ava Kirilova is preparing for the defining performance of her career – as Odette in Swan Lake.

Act I ends with a dancer sustaining a terrible injury in rehearsal. Act II opens with injured ballerina Juliet installed in Ava’s home on an expensive gated estate while Ava is away on the Swan Lake tour.

Juliet’s ballet career is suddenly, brutally over and her heart is as shattered as her knee.

She has been cocooned in the ballet company since childhood so she has no idea how she will make a living once she recovers. And when her £3,000 pay off is stolen, she is desperate.

A Ukrainian security guard, Max, patrols the estate and Juliet knows he can access the codes to residents’ safes so she befriends him, cooking up a plan to “borrow” Ava’s savings. But her plan spirals out of control, leading to blackmail and murder. The plot twists are abundant, the prose eloquent and vivid, but it’s the relationship between Juliet and Max that gives the novel its beating heart.

Your hope that the pair can find some form of happiness will keep you glued to this classy thriller.

Sweet Sweet Revenge Ltd

Medical Grade Music and Sweet Sweet Revenge Ltd are out now
Medical Grade Music and Sweet Sweet Revenge Ltd are out now

Jonas Jonasson

HarperVia, £8.99

Jonas Jonasson creates hilarity out of brilliantly absurd plots, whether it is a 100-year-old man escaping through an old folks’ home window, or a South African peasant girl who saves the King of Sweden.

His latest unlikely hero is Kevin who is abandoned by his callous father on the Kenyan savannah in the expectation he will be eaten by lions.

Kevin seeks refuge up a tree and, when he falls down through exhaustion, is rescued by a medicine man with eight daughters who sees him as a gift from God.

Kevin is adopted and trained to be a Maasai warrior.

He dutifully absorbs all he is taught but draws the line when he learns that the warrior coming-of-age ceremony involves ritual circumcision.

He escapes and heads back to Sweden where he meets a woman who has also suffered at the hands of his father.

After they discover a company called Sweet Sweet Revenge Ltd, the plotting begins.

Add a crooked art dealer, a lazy Swedish policeman, an ophthalmologist whose wife ditched him for a urologist, and we are set for delicious Jonasson mayhem.

Even Pope Francis makes a cameo appearance but this is quickly subsumed into the general hilarity when the Maasai warrior medicine man comes to Sweden to visit his adopted son.

A glorious romp which confirms Jonas Jonasson’s status as the most brilliant comic novelist alive.

One Two Three Four

Craig Brown

Fourth Estate, £9.99

Craig Brown explores The Beatles phenomenon from 150 intriguing angles so, alongside usual suspects from Pete Best to Yoko Ono and cameos from Dylan, Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones, there are revealing fan encounters and a trip on the National Trust Beatles tour.

You needn’t be a Fabs fan to love this, but Beatlemaniacs will find much to fascinate them.

Where Stands A Wingéd Sentry

Where Stands A Wingéd Sentry is out now
Where Stands A Wingéd Sentry is out now

Margaret Kennedy

Handheld Press, £12.99

Published for the first time in the UK, the novelist’s memoir of life in England in 1940 was written when the nation was braced for German invasion so there’s a stark immediacy to her account. As she and her children leave Surrey for the relative safety of St Ives, her diary shows how life changed beyond recognition on the Home Front.

Men Who Hate Women

Laura Bates

Simon & Schuster, £9.99

Everyday Sexism’s Laura Bates investigates the misogynistic ‘manosphere’, from ‘incels’ – involuntary celibates – who debate whether women are human to Men’s Rights Activists.

She warns their ideas are mainstream and have already incited mass killings and violence. She also explains how tech platforms, especially YouTube, send even well-intentioned men down extremist rabbit holes.

It’s terrorism and it demands urgent action.