Ian Macpherson

Bluemoose Books, £8.99

Failing stand-up comic Hayden McGlynn decides he’s going to write a novel: a crime novel, since that’s apparently where the money is. Inspiration strikes when he goes home to Dublin for the funeral of Eddie, the eccentric artist uncle who raised him after Hayden’s parents moved to Hawaii on the eve of his seventh birthday. With gangsters for neighbours, the theft of a painting and hints that Eddie’s death was no accident, this could be the perfect launching pad for Hayden’s new genre of “Celtic screwball noir”. But Sloot is itself a literary experiment: Macpherson’s comedic take on post-modernism, with a self-aware narrator who warns of plot-twists in advance and boasts about the “revolutionary narrative structure” he’s dubbed The Inquisitive Bullet. Happily, it works well. Glasgow-based Macpherson, a multi-talented comedian, author and playwright, pulls off the post-modern comedy thriller angle by ensuring that humour always predominates, keeping the tone light, the hero downtrodden and the story generously sprinkled with good jokes.

Dramatic Exchanges

Edited by Daniel Rosenthal

Profile, £20

Having written the official history of the South Bank’s National Theatre, David Rosenthal has opened up its archive of correspondence, and what a fascinating treasure trove it is. Around 800 letters are reproduced here, dealing with the production, staging and reception of NT plays from 1963 to 2017. From them we can glean something of the contrasting approaches of its original director, Laurence Olivier, and his successors, and soak up their dialogues with some of the greatest actors and playwrights of the last half-century. Inevitably, these letters contain a fair degree of gushing (albeit informed gushing) over each other’s brilliance. But there’s much else besides. John Osborne being predictably prickly. Olivier turning down a baronetcy. A young Derek Jacobi pleading for more demanding roles. The Romans in Britain controversy and lots about Amadeus. Judgement calls are made, feelings are bruised and friendships angrily curtailed. It’s a rare opportunity to sneak behind the curtain and eavesdrop on theatre at the highest level.

The Conviction of Cora Burns

Carolyn Kirby

No Exit, £8.99

Born in a prison and abandoned there by her mother, Cora Burns has endured a grim workhouse upbringing in late-19th Century Birmingham only to wind up in prison again. A determined young woman, but an angry one with a simmering violent streak, she and her only friend, Alice Salt, murdered a child to see what it felt like … or at least that’s how Cora remembers it. Once released, she starts work as a maid for scientist Thomas Jerwood, a practitioner of physiognomy who believes criminal tendencies can be discerned from facial features. His interest in the alleged criminality of the girl Violet, who lives in his house, appears sinister. But is it really Violet he’s studying? Cora makes a complex, ambiguous central character trying to cope in an inhospitable society, and around her Kirby weaves a dark and richly textured story about science and ethics in the Victorian era, the mystery of Cora’s parentage and the fate of Alice Salt.