Angus MacDonald

Birlinn, £8.99

It’s 1944, and Donald John Gillies is dying of pneumonia. If his son, Donald Angus, doesn’t come back from Canada, the population of the Ardnish peninsula will soon be reduced to zero. The time has come for Donald John to make his final confession, which means casting his mind back to 1900, when poverty forced him to leave his family and fight the Boers. To his old friend Willie MacDonald, Donald John is the epitome of a Highland gentleman: “Understated, polite, intelligent, kind and brave.” But his experiences in South Africa cast a shadow over him, which, at the end of his life, he must finally face. The concluding part of MacDonald’s Ardnish trilogy, but chronologically taking place earlier, this opens a window on two worlds, shining a light on the experiences of Highland regiments in the Boer War while commemorating traditional Highland culture, evoking both of them vividly in well-crafted, deceptively simple prose.

Borrowed Time

Sue Armstrong

Bloomsbury Sigma, £10.99

If a species of shark can live for 400 years and a certain type of jellyfish is functionally immortal, why should humans be stuck with their allotted lifespan? Sue Armstrong, a writer and broadcaster on science and health issues, presents a discussion of current research into the process of ageing, and there appears to be no single answer. Told mostly through interviews with scientists investigating their own specialist spheres, and incorporating both scientific research and ethical and philosophical debates, her overview ranges across the accumulation of cellular damage, the shortening of telomeres, free radicals, traits which are useful in early life but detrimental later on and a variety of other factors. A large part of the second half of the book is devoted to Alzheimer’s and potential treatments for it, highlighting the point that ageing research may be a vital resource for increasing the quality of life, if not its length.

Live; Live; Live

Jonathan Buckley

Sort Of, £11.99

Lucas Judd is a suburban psychic, able to hear the voices of the dead and locate missing people. We see him through the eyes of his neighbour, Joshua, a young man fascinated by the quirky, precise, aphoristic enigma next door. Lucas takes an interest in Joshua and invites him into his life, no doubt aware of Joshua’s desire to track down his own absentee father, but the arrival of a young woman upsets the balance between them. Buckley stealthily reels us in from the first page, kindling our curiosity about this odd man, who is undoubtedly a comfort to the people he helps, and who presents himself as a benevolent soul who must always use his gift responsibly. But there’s an ambivalence around him, hinting at darker motives beneath the façade or tragic, unintended consequences of his abilities. It’s an atmospheric, downbeat and understated novel, but consistently compelling and beautifully crafted.