Retail Therapy

Mark Pilkington

Bloomsbury, £12.99

The coronavirus crisis was the last thing the retail sector needed, but even before the lockdown it was in serious trouble. With around 10 million people employed by the UK retail sector, a meltdown would have a great and lasting impact, and Mark Pilkington, former CEO of Gossard, the company responsible for the Wonderbra, explores its causes, effects and what measures might possibly turn the situation around. Online companies like Amazon hoovering up their business is only one factor.

There are many forces at play, and Pilkington delves deep into the system, examining supply chains, shifts in generational spending patterns and the balance of power between consumers and producers, finally coming up with suggestions as to how the sector can recover.

The Russian Job

Douglas Smith

Picador, £10.99

In 1920, long before the Cold War cast the USA and USSR as irreconcilable adversaries, the nascent Soviet Union was struck by famine. War, revolution and drought had taken their toll. Herbert Hoover’s American Relief Administration swept in and began feeding 10.5 million people a day, as well as providing clothing and inoculations.

Here, Douglas Smith recounts the herculean efforts of 380 Americans feeding ten times the number of people they had originally bargained for, and the reception that awaited them deep inside the Soviet Union. In later years both countries would enshroud the relief effort in a conspiracy of silence, the Soviets only acknowledging the ARA to denounce them as spies. Naturally, there was a propagandist element to their endeavours, but what comes across most strongly here is the huge logistical challenge the ARA faced and the genuine connection they made with the Russian people.

That Smith has rescued this inspiring humanitarian story from obscurity can only be welcomed.

A Quiet Death In Italy

Tom Benjamin

Constable, £11.99

In his debut novel, Tom Benjamin introduces Daniel Leicester, an English private detective living in sunny Bologna, where he works for the agency headed by his father-in-law, the city’s former police chief.

After the body of an activist is found in one of Bologna’s subterranean canals, Leicester is hired to look into his death by the mayor’s wife, the dead man’s lover, who suspects her husband may have had something to do with it.

His investigation leads back to the 1970s, and the origins of the present-day battle between those who want to open the city up to developers, and those who oppose them. Benjamin gloriously evokes the porticoes and palazzos of the medieval city, along with its radical tradition and the corruption in the police, in a slow-burning, tense and brooding thriller which boasts the atmosphere and attention to detail that could only spring from a genuine love of the location.