Detroit 67: The Year That Changed Soul by Stuart Cosgrove (Polygon, £9.99)

Cosgrove’s soul-boy credentials are well established, and he focuses here on a key year in the development of black music, specifically the fortunes of Motown Records in a year of “unexplained deaths and conflicting narratives”. In 12 monthly chapters, he examines the symbiotic link between black America’s music and its politics, and the irony that Motown was presided over by Berry Gordy, who maintained that the two should never mix. It was a year of rising crime, sinking police morale, industrial unrest (from which Motown was not immune) and, in July, four days of rioting, all against the backdrop of Vietnam. Central to the story is Gordy’s reluctance to change with the times, and the fact that the label’s next leap forward would come not from him but his artists. As you’d expect from such a distinguished music writer, it’s meticulously researched and passionately written, and brings home what a beleaguered city Detroit was, even in its glory days.

The Witches by Stacy Schiff (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £9.99)

Over 1692 and 1693, 19 people were hanged for witchcraft in Salem, and no fewer than 400 accused. Each retelling has added new flourishes, but Schiff and her eight researchers have gone back to basics to try to make sense of the Salem trials. Although not a single court record survives, and any existing transcriptions are unreliable, there remains a wealth of documentation produced in New England during the period, from which she builds up a dauntingly detailed picture of the progression of the hysteria. But why did this happen in Salem alone, when witch hunts were dying out everywhere else? Schiff can’t offer anything genuinely new, but her book points to a perfect storm of circumstances: isolation, the constant fear of Native American incursions, decades of built-up resentments, the convenience of the crisis for the theocratic authorities. Some of her assertions make little sense, and far tighter editing could have been exercised, but she gives her readers much to ponder.

Crash Land by Doug Johnstone (Faber, £12.99)

In the airport at the end of a visit to his native Orkney, 21-year-old Finn is sought out by an attractive woman, Maddie, to deter the attentions of a lecherous oil worker. Once in the air, a drunken Finn punches Maddie’s unwanted admirer, setting off a train of events which leads to the plane crashing, killing seven. Maddie herself disappears into the night. Arguably the cause of the biggest death toll on Orkney since the Vikings, Finn becomes a pariah. He’s also the only person who knows where Maddie’s hiding, so when another death comes to light he sets out on some investigation himself. In his eighth novel, Johnstone shows how much mileage you can get from an unlikeable protagonist. Finn lacks common sense and self-awareness, he’s stupidly besotted with a femme fatale and antagonises everyone around him. The compulsion to see how deep a hole he will dig for himself keeps us hooked as events build to a high-octane conclusion.