Les Cowan (Lion Hudson, £8.99)

Life as the pastor of a small church on Edinburgh’s Southside is rarely dull and often dangerous, as Spanish ex-pat David Hidalgo is now well aware. In this, the fifth of his adventures, Hidalgo’s newlywed bliss is disrupted when his neighbours’ daughter, Samira, decides to convert from Islam to Christianity, and it turns out that her two brothers have fallen under the influence of a man nicknamed “The Prophet”, who was thrown out of his Edinburgh mosque for being a radical hothead. The brothers are in Spain, plotting acts which they hope will restore the Caliphate, while still trying to exert strict control over Samira’s life back home. Drawing Hidalgo out once again from his cosy life ministering to a flock of recurring characters and into a life-or-death situation, Cowan anchors this warm but suspenseful tale in a sense of family and belonging, and emphasises the importance of understanding other cultures.


Maaza Mengiste (Canongate, £9.99)

Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, Mengiste’s epic historical is set in 1935, at the time of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The recently-orphaned Hirut becomes a servant to Aster and her husband Kidane, and tensions grow between her and her new mistress. When Kidane goes to fight the invaders, Aster follows, taking with her Hirut, who becomes a field nurse before taking up arms alongside the other women to repel the Italian forces. It’s Hirut’s idea to raise morale by getting a lookalike to impersonate Haile Selassie, who in reality is in exile and living in Bath. Mengiste highlights the forgotten role played in the war by women, also drawing parallels between open warfare and the conditions faced by her female characters in their daily lives. Sometimes, she can make her points a little heavy-handedly, but that’s a rare flaw in a novel that’s multi-faceted, absorbing, beautifully written and haunting.


Paul Cowan, Tom Gillespie & John McKenzie (Valley Press, £12.99)

Glass Work Humans must have seemed like a risky experiment when first mooted, but the book is a soaring success. It’s basically an anthology co-authored by three Scottish writers whose short stories and poems are divided up and reassembled according to three loose themes. It’s a kaleidoscopic book made up of dozens of slices of working-class Scotland, encapsulating its hard-won experience and dashed expectations along with glimmers of hope, from young boys idolising their hard-drinking elders to old ladies with dementia reliving their favourite memories and divorced men in their 40s avidly following Masterchef on pub TVs. On subsequent readings, you can try to prise them apart, and separately examine each author and his style, themes and concerns. But the first impression is of Cowan, Gillespie and McKenzie speaking with one eloquent and evocative voice which amounts to something bigger and greater than themselves.