An Almond For A Parrot by Wray Delaney (Harper Collins, £7.99)
In Newgate Prison in 1756, Tully True good awaits trial, and possible execution, for murder. Raised by a drunk gambler, she was married at 12 on the understanding that her husband would come back for her when she was old enough. Then, however, came her father’s second marriage, a new step-family and a sexual awakening which would determine the course of her life. It’s easy to see why children’s author Sally Gardner strapped on a pseudonym for this. Endlessly engaging and erotic, it’s a spiritual descendant of Fanny Hill and Moll Flanders with shades of The Sixth Sense thrown in, for Tully can see dead people, and she can make other people see them too. In Delaney’s hands eroticism and magic blend into each other in an uninhibited heightened reality which nevertheless has a dark side, prefigured by one of Tully’s scarier apparitions. Her emotional rollercoaster of a life brings the bodice-ripper into the 21st century and makes gripping reading.
Outlandish Knight by Minoo Dinshaw (Penguin, £10.99)
So confident is Dinshaw, probably rightly, that his readers will already know who Steven Runciman was that he entirely omits any introduction outlining his achievements. The uninitiated eventually learn that he was a historian specialising in Byzantine studies: a controversial populariser who treated history as literature and found fame with his threevolume History Of The Crusades. A Borders lad born in 1903 to a Liberal MP, he led a distinguished life. From studying at Eton with George Orwell and Cyril Connolly to becoming Astrologer Royal to the Greek Court, Grand Orator of the Greek Orthodox Church and honorary dervish, Dinshaw’s Runciman is a complex and fascinating character, but a snobbish and emotionally detached man who doesn’t always come across well. As a biography, it’s arguably too long and detailed, and the prose often feels overcooked, but it’s clearly a labour of love and shows how many and varied aspects of 20th-century culture were loosely linked by this extraordinary man.