Strange Labyrinth by Will Ashon (Granta, £9.99)

While it’s true that this is a history of Epping Forest, the ancient woodland situated between London and Essex, it probably fits more comfortably under the category of “psycho-geography” than it would on the shelves of National Trust gift shops. Former music publisher Ashon suffered something of a mid-life crisis and dealt with it by taking long walks there. He has emerged clutching a book that maps out a strain of English dissent and counter-culture, the kinds of “outlaws, poets, mystics and murderers” for whom Epping Forest has been a retreat and a sanctuary. It’s a landscape populated by figures like anarcho-punk Penny Rimbaud of the band Crass, Stonehenge Festival founder Wally Hope and actor, director and scholar of the esoteric Ken Campbell, with the ghosts of Dick Turpin, Tennyson, Jacob Epstein and TE Lawrence drifting through the trees. Oh, and doggers. It’s a fascinating meander down a road less travelled, and Ashton’s self-deprecating tone undercuts any pretension.

Gravesend by William Boyle (No Exit, £8.99)

That’s not Gravesend in Kent, by the way. Boyle’s second novel is set in an Italian-American neighbourhood in Brooklyn which is still suffering the fallout from the death of a gay teenager who got chased into traffic by bullies. Sixteen years on, the ringleader, Ray Boy Calabrese, has been released from prison, a broken man. Conway, the dead boy’s brother, hunts him down to exact revenge but at the last moment can’t pull the trigger. Ray, however, has a proposition for him. Meanwhile, Ray’s 15-year-old nephew, who has become a disruptive influence at school, wants to impress his jailbird uncle by turning to a life of crime. And Alessandra, a failed actress who has returned to her old neighbourhood from LA, remembers Ray from school and develops feelings for him, which doesn’t impress Conway one bit. Blame is hard to pin down in this dark, hard-hitting novel and Boyle’s reluctance to give it a moral centre means there are no easy answers.

Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders (Bloomsbury, £8.99)

George Saunders has made a name for himself as one of the most inventive short story writers working today. His first novel – a Man Booker Prize winner, no less – shows that he can approach the longer format with just as much originality. A bardo, in Tibetan Buddhism, is a transitional state between life and death, and that’s where President Lincoln’s 11-year-old son Willie hovers, having died of typhoid fever. It’s 1862, and Willie wants to hang around in this realm so that he can continue to see his father on his visits to Willie’s crypt. But the other spirits hanging around Oak Hill Cemetery want Lincoln to let him go so that the boy can pass to the other side. It’s a daunting book to approach, set out like a play script interspersed with extracts from biographical sources. But any challenges it presents are quickly overcome by a story that’s earnest and compassionate, to the point of overt sentimentality.