THE STREET Bernardine Bishop

(Sceptre, £8.99)

Before going on to become a writer herself, Bernardine Bishop’s earliest claim to fame was that she was the youngest witness in the 1960 Lady Chatterley trial. This was the last book she wrote before her death in 2013, a well-crafted and compassionate story of families living in a London street. She interweaves several plotlines – an elderly couple who take in their 11-year-old grandson while his parents spend a year in Canada, a couple whose imbalance in salaries is affecting their relationship, another couple who are finding it hard to conceive – but the mood darkens with the arrival of former priest Roger Tree, who is out on bail after being charged with sexual abuse and is staying with his sister. Any mood of cosiness is dispelled by the moral dilemma Bishop sets up, but what does persist is her conviction that close and meaningful relationships can develop in these surroundings, and that an urban existence doesn’t have to be all about alienation.

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THE SEA DETECTIVE

Mark Douglas-Home (Penguin, £7.99)

What could the Indian sex-trafficking trade have to do with an Edinburgh-based oceanographer? Cal McGill is a low-level eco-activist who hires himself out to environmental agencies, using his expert knowledge of ocean currents to identify polluters – while in his spare time trying to trace the origins of washed-up body parts. One of these dismembered limbs belongs to an Indian girl smuggled into Britain as a sex slave and then callously murdered. A geeky PhD with a broken marriage behind him, Cal has long been preoccupied with his grandfather’s death at sea in World War II, and as he learns more about it the plot lines begin to converge and complement each other. Cal’s specialised expertise is a refreshing element that helps this novel stand out in a crowded detective market, and although The Sea Detective has its flaws it’s undeniably engaging, with some memorable characters, including a courageous Indian runaway and a bright but self-conscious female Detective Constable.

FORTRESS EUROPE

Matthew Carr (Hurst, £9.99)

It shows how fast the issue of immigration is evolving that an updated edition of Matthew Carr’s 2012 book is considered necessary after only three years. Pointing out that boundaries between nation-states really only became important in the late 19th century, Carr shows how the decision to allow freedom of movement across the European Union has led to the increasingly militarised policing of EU borders. He examines the warlike rhetoric and hostile reality of this “gated continent”, finding it dysfunctional, counter-productive and contrary to the principles on which the EU was founded. He visits the entrance points at the EU’s extremities, like Spain, Poland and Slovakia, giving a voice to the migrants themselves, alongside border guards and human rights activists. While noting that Europe is not unique, but part of a global effort to keep the poor behind walls, Carr still finds grounds for optimism in the borderlands, where a new Europe is coming into being and “borders can turn into bridges”.

LOVE POEMS

Bertolt Brecht (Liveright, £9.99)

In the English-speaking world, Brecht isn’t largely known for his poetry. But it consumed, as his daughter Barbara attests in the introduction, a major part of his creative life. Translators David Constantine and Tom Kuhn are currently rendering a whopping 2000 Brecht poems into English, this volume being a taster for the finished edition to come. What also surprises is the tenderness he could convey. We would imagine that Brecht on the subject of love would be tough and cynical. Sometimes he is: the hard-bitten observer of human foibles is present and correct. But this book shows that there were many sides to him. There’s a series of poems here relying heavily on the imagery of wind and clouds, another revisiting the myth of Balaam and poems written, as much to provoke as seduce, to his lover Margarete Steffin. The complete poetic works, once it arrives, will no doubt spark a reappraisal of this unexpectedly multi-faceted and romantic writer.

ALASTAIR MABBOTT