This week's bookcase includes reviews of Jilly Cooper's hugely anticipated new novel, Mount!, A Deadly Thaw by Sarah Ward and The 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth Behind America's UFO Highway by Ben Mezrich

Mount!

Jilly Cooper i

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Cooper, British queen of the bonkbuster, is back with her latest novel Mount! which sees the highly anticipated return of her most popular character, the horsey heartbreaker Rupert Campbell-Black. And while Rupert is once again setting hearts aflutter across the country, it's the horses that are getting most of the action, as Mount! is set in the world of horse breeding and flat racing. The story follows Rupert, pitted against old enemies Isa Lovell and Cosmo Rannaldini in a race to win leading sire - with Rupert determined that his prize stallion Love Rat will be crowned.

Left at home juggling the family while Rupert's off chasing winners around the world, his darling wife Taggie falls into the arms of Jan, the exceptionally handsome and utterly charming carer of Rupert's wayward geriatric father Old Eddie, while setback after setback on the racing track make Rupert's dream seem ever more impossible. Cooper writes characters that you can really root for, despite the fact that she never disguises their faults, from Rupert's infidelity and impetuousness to Taggie's doormat saintliness, Cooper's message is clear: we're all worthy of love and it will come to us in the end.

Mount! is quintessential Cooper, with horses and dogs having as big a role in the action as the people. Fans will be thrilled with the return of many of Cooper's best-loved characters, culminating in a huge party which reads like a who's who of her best novels. Cooper's writing is so ineffably joyful and uplifting, one hopes that, given her huge readership, Mount! will jolly well cheer the nation up.

A Deadly Thaw

Sarah Ward

Lena Fisher served a 10-year prison sentence for killing her husband. So, when his newly dead body is found a year after her release, it becomes apparent nothing is as it seems. As Lena's sister, Kat, battles personal demons to unravel a web of love, loss, cruelty and false memories from two decades' past, she reaches a chilling conclusion that is all-too-believable. Beautifully crafted with elegant understatement, this is Sarah Ward's second crime thriller set in the Peak District. Bitter Chill, published last year, was widely praised and compared to the best of Scandinavian noir. In Deadly Thaw, she pulls off the near-impossible feat of balancing a credible plot with realistic characters who are broken and beautifully drawn. And, like a double malt, her economical prose slides down smoothly, before leaving a catch in the throat.

Sex And Death: Stories

Edited by Sarah Hall and Peter Hobbs

It could be argued that all tales are, somehow, about sex or death, but in this collection of 20 short stories written by authors around the world, these tantalising themes are thrust into the spotlight. Some are laugh-out-loud funny, such as Alan Warner's Porto Baso Scale Modellers, when an attractive woman tries to join a group of elderly model plane enthusiasts. Some are creepy, for example In The Reactor, by Peter Hobbs, about two dummy nuclear plant workers. And some are overtly sexual, but it's not a collection of soft porn stories. Instead, there's plenty to provoke longer thought - Fin by Lynn Coady and Reversible by Courttia Newland throw up difficult subjects that are hard to forget - with a couple of light-hearted one-shots to balance it all out.

Undertow

Elizabeth Heathcote

With a background in writing and editing magazines and newspapers, Eliabeth Heathcote has now turned her hand to novels, in the form of Undertow. The dark thriller follows freelance journalist Carmen as she begins to question whether the death of her husband's former lover really was a tragic accident. Throughout the book, the author toys with the reader as the protagonist desperately tries to discover the truth about her partner Tom, a successful London lawyer, but she is met with a web of lies and unanswered questions at every turn. The book has a somewhat slow and wordy start, but still manages to draw you in. Despite the real tension only really building in the final few chapters, Heathcote conjures up clear imagery throughout and executes a clever twist at the end.