How To Be a Dictator

Frank Dikötter

Bloomsbury, £10.99

“Naked power has an expiry date,” Dikötter writes, and although a dictator can keep it at bay with brute force, propaganda and informants, the cult of personality is the most effective method. Here, he looks at eight 20th century dictators, from Mussolini and Hitler to Mengistu, who presented themselves as the indispensable fathers of their nations. Examining their fundamental similarities and stylistic differences, these eight portraits show how each modified the basic rules of the cult of personality to suit their circumstances, which ones got lost in their delusions and paranoia, which survived to die natural deaths and which even managed to hand on power to their sons. Although Dikötter insists that we’re far better off nowadays, his book offers up striking parallels with the current breed of global leaders which can’t be dismissed lightly.

Heaven, My Home

Attica Locke

Serpent’s Tail, £8.99

In the sequel to the award-winning Bluebird, Bluebird, black Texas Ranger Darren Matthews is trying to piece his life together, dealing with a broken marriage and blackmail threats from his own mother while hunting for nine-year-old Levi King, who went missing while boating on a lake. Locke uses the crime genre as a lens through which to examine race relations in the USA, and this novel about a black sheriff trying to keep order in Texas in the age of Trump couldn’t be more timely. Picking up a loose thread from Bluebird, Bluebird, the missing boy is the son of a captain in the Aryan Brotherhood, and Matthews’ investigation leads him to Hopetown, a community established by former slaves with a trailer park of neo-Nazis camped next to it. To find the boy, Matthews has to go toe-to-toe with card-carrying racists and finds his impartiality compromised. It’s a tense, well-paced story with a complex, conflicted lead character and penetrating social commentary.

Ladies In Waiting

Anne Somerset

Riverrun, £12.99

I remember finding out that the Queen’s ladies in waiting weren’t top-rank domestic servants but actual duchesses and countesses, and wondering what sort of aristocrat would want to run around after the monarch like a glorified maid. The answers are to be found in Anne Somerset’s book, which chronicles the role of the lady in waiting from the time of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn through Elizabeth I, the Stuarts and the Hanoverians up to the 1980s. At a time when “virtually every profession was an exclusively masculine preserve”, a position at court allowed women a degree of influence, and the more ambitious among them schemed and jockeyed for position, some scoring the enviable role of mistress to the King. Elizabeth II has maintained Victoria’s anodyne respectability, so Somerset’s often diverting book, originally published in 1984 and not updated, loses energy on its way to an anticlimactic finish.

Alastair Mabbott