The Partisan Heart

Gordon Kerr

Muswell Press, £12.99

The debut novel by this East Kilbride-born author opens in 1999, with journalist Michael Keats mourning his Italian wife, killed by a hit-and-run driver. Her death still fresh in his mind, he discovers a jacket which can be traced to a mystery man in Italy, proof that she was having an affair. Michael’s editor suggests a deal: he can go to Italy to investigate his wife’s infidelity on the condition that he reports back to the paper on the kidnapping of an heiress in the Valtellina valley. The answers he seeks are somehow to be found in a story of betrayal among a group of Italian partisans in 1943, along with the secret of how Luigi Ronconi came to make his fortune and why corpses are piling up in the wake of his daughter’s kidnapping – including, if he’s not careful, Michael Keats. One particular narrow escape stretches credibility, but it’s a solid, steady-paced thriller that keeps the curiosity piqued throughout.

Conan Doyle For The Defence

Margalit Fox

Profile, £9.99

Life imitated art in 1908 when 82-year-old Glasgow spinster Marion Gilchrist was murdered and Oscar Slater, a German Jew, was promptly fitted up for the crime. When he heard about this obvious miscarriage of justice, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set about the task of exonerating Slater, employing all the keen analysis and deductive reasoning of his fictional creation, Sherlock Holmes. But it was all for naught, his pleas for the case to be re-examined rejected by the judicial establishment. Eighteen years passed before Slater saw the light of day, and when he was finally released Conan Doyle was taken aback by Slater’s apparent ingratitude and his refusal to reimburse the author from his compensation for the expenses he had incurred. This is ground that has been gone over before, but New York Times obituarist Margalit Fox covers it expertly, emphasising the role played by anti-Semitism and class bias in Slater’s conviction and raising obvious concerns about contemporary racial profiling.

The Crossway

Guy Stagg

Picador, £9.99

Although he wasn’t a religious man, Guy Stagg hoped that walking an ancient pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Jerusalem would renew him after a period of mental illness. It took 10 months, in which he crossed 10 countries, relying on strangers for food and lodging each night, and his account of it is a marvellous piece of travel writing as well as a document of his inner journey. Making a perilous crossing of the Alps in winter and being bombarded with tear gas by riot police, Stagg endured sickness, injury, tedium, loss of resolve and a lapse into binge-drinking. He recounts times when he recoiled from people and their demonstrations of faith, but the lasting impression is of the hospitality and generosity of those he met along the way. Acknowledging that the pilgrimage was a stage in his life’s journey rather than the culmination of it, this beautifully written book ends on an ambivalent note which feels entirely honest and fitting.