BOOK REVIEWS: SMART-ASS; BIN IT: OH, PLAY THAT THING by Roddy Doyle (Cape, Pounds 16.99) HH

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Long gone are the days when Doyle could be relied upon to supply a lively take on the rough-and-tumble of Irish life, witty narratives full of brilliant characters and classic moments.

After the initial craic of The Barrytown trilogy - The Van, The Snapper, The Commitments - Doyle's books got bleaker. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha revealed a child's response to the breakdown of a marriage. But the real turning point came with the hard-hitting Woman Who Walked Into Doors. There's not much to smile about when a woman's being beaten black and blue by her husband. But, five years ago, in his most radical departure from style, Doyle began an ambitious new trilogy. A Star Called Henry was the tale of a hired gunman during Ireland's War Of Independence. Oh, Play That Thing is the second part, and continues the turbulent adult life of Doyle's hero, Henry Smart.

Having fled Dublin in fear of his life, leaving his teacher wife and baby behind, Henry begins a new life in New York. Still surrounded by immigrant Irish faces, the danger remains that he'll be recognised as one of Michael Collins' henchmen. But Henry's used to life on the edge, and is willing to take his chances. Besides, it's the prohibitive '20s and everyone is surviving on a wing and prayer. …