Endgame: Poems New & Used by Gordon Jarvie (Greenwich Exchange, £11.99)
Jarvie describes this new collection as a short postscript to his larger 2014 work, A Man Passing Through. It is arranged in a similar fashion: groups of themed poems preceded by an introduction where Jarvie, unfortunately, explains what his poems are about, leaving the reader with their imagination cosseted. Jarvie has spent much of his life in West Africa, but now lives in Crail, in the East Neuk of Fife. His best poems move with elegance through these two landscapes. In the excellent A House Called Kaduna, the exotic name of a seaside bungalow in Fife reminds the narrator of a cool evening in the Maidan dustbowl where he once watched a polo game. The imagistic precision is immaculate: "A whiff of leather, sweat and horseflesh lingers on the night air." Sadly, lines like these are rare. Poetry can enchant the everyday, but too many poems in Endgame ensure the quotidian is as banal as it often seems.
Present Tense by WHS McIntyre (Sandstone Press, £8.99)
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WHS McIntyre’s debut crime novel has plenty of time for the law, but not for law enforcement. Instead, criminal lawyer Robbie Munro takes on the role of chief investigator. In the first of a new series called The Best Defence Mysteries, Munro is having financial and family problems. When a violent client called Billy Paris walks into Munro’s legal aid office and gives him a cardboard box to look after, Munro sees a way to make a quick buck. He is soon embroiled in a dark mystery that involves a helicopter crash, Scotland’s only Tory MP and Britain’s first spaceport. Although the novel needs a good edit, McIntyre writes snappy prose and there are light-hearted nods to the hard-boiled classics of the genre. Munro is no Philip Marlowe, but his aspirations are admirable. Two Ministry of Defence goons do prowl around Munro but the dearth of police give the impression that Scotland has something of the Wild West about it.
Cyclogeography: Journeys Of A London Bicycle Courier by Jon Day (Notting Hill Editions, £8.99)
Before Jon Day was a Professor of English at King’s College, London, he worked as a bicycle courier. He cycled 300 miles a week and immersed himself in this subculture of Lycra-clad drifters. His stories of the road feature interesting characters, most of whom are physical wrecks by the age of 30. But the courier’s life is never dull. In the morning they might deliver suspect packages to seedy business executives; in the afternoon, drop off a box of tea at Buckingham Palace. The title of this slim, odd book is a pun on psychogeography, a walking practice which seeks to transform our understanding of the city. Day’s cycling equivalent doesn’t work, but once the theory is out the way, it’s free-wheeling enjoyment. Day offers some compelling views from the saddle and a dip into the history of cycling and literature that includes a reading of a novel for bike lovers and haters alike: Flann O Brien’s The Third Policeman.