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Book Bites (8 April)

Published in the Sunday Times

Darwin Comes To Town *****
Menno Schilthuizen, Quercus, R315

This book started many conversations: with my children, husband, his co-workers and friends. It contains observations on how animals and plants are evolving and adapting to urban landscapes. There are crows that have alarm systems for approaching hunters, catfish that have figured out how to catch pigeons, mosquitoes that have evolved different varieties for different tunnels of London’s Underground, and Sendai crows who, in Japan, use slow-moving traffic as their nutcrackers. Fascinating. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

After the Fire ****
Henning Mankell, Harvill Secker, R280

Mankell is famous for his thrillers featuring the melancholy Wallander, but this is the last book he wrote before his death in 2015 – and it’s different. It is not about crime, nor is it thrilling. It is, however, vastly compelling. This is the elegiacally written story of Fredrik Welin, a doctor who retired in disgrace to the family home on an island in the Swedish archipelago. Old age is starting to bite and Welin has few friends. As in a Greek tragedy he loses everything when his home is destroyed in a fire the police suspect him of setting. He endures a grim winter of discontent, but does not give up. Others die, or leave, but he continues until spring brings warmth and new hope. It is a fitting epilogue to Mankell’s oeuvre. Aubrey Paton

Year One ****
Nora Roberts, Little Brown, R295

There’s romance but it’s a smidgen compared to how broad Roberts goes in her latest endeavour – a trilogy of post-apocalyptic fiction. An untreatable flu has spread. Originating as a curse in Scotland on a magical rock where a bird’s blood released it, two billion people were subsequently infected. Now survivors have to leave the cities where The Raiders — a group intent on looting, raping and murdering – rule. The good survivors have to find solace but it’s not just The Raiders out to get them. The government is taking them against their will, and the evil of the dark forces – witches and wizards – has been increased by the curse. It’s incredibly entertaining. Most horribly, book two is out only in December. Boo. Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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