New Fiction

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Disordered Minds by Minette Walters (Macmillan, [pounds sterling]16.99)

IN MINETTE WALTERS' (left) latest novel, a 30-year-old murder case is put under the microscope by anthropologist Dr Jonathan Hughes. Did the wretched and retarded Howard Stamp murder his grandmother?

The jury thought that he did.

Three years later, Howard committed suicide in prison. To begin with, Jonathan's interest in the case is purely intellectual - 'a careless judicial system was indicative of a tired democracy'. But, in the course of his researches, he is forced to concede that exposing a miscarriage of justice demands more than a desire to disinter the truth to boost his professional reputation.

His certainties rattled, he is brought up against the question: to what degree do most of us suffer from disorder in the mind and how do we deal with it?

Slowly and carefully the interior landscapes of damaged men and women are exposed and their defences peeled away, in a novel that encompasses extreme violence and despair as well as love, friendship and compassion.

This is a brilliant piece of psychological deconstruction and a gripping story which works on several levels - heartrending and shocking by turns, clever and demanding.

Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor (Atlantic Books, [pounds sterling]10.99)

BITTER Fruit comes freighted with the political and racial history of South Africa. Its author, Achmat Dangor, was born and raised in a mixed race township in Johannesburg and his portrayal of the Ali family - Silas, his wife Lydia, and their student son Mikey - has the ring of authenticity.

Silas is working for Mandela's government and the Council for Truth and Reconciliation is changing the political climate. The novel opens when Silas sees the white man who raped Lydia 20 years ago and got away with it - a meeting that Silas realises is inevitable.

The encounter triggers a reprise on the violent and brutal past, and calls into question the present and future of the family. …