books

White Trash By John King Publisher: Jonathan Cape. ISBN:022406049X.268 pages.£10.

White Trash is John King's fifth book, written in the epidosodic, unpunctuated, staccato style of the 'modern British novel', shot through with street slang, swear words and gritty observation of social collapse.

The first chapter is a struggle, comprising 15 pagelong sentences.My God ... that Martin Amis has a lot to answer for! Nonetheless, King is a first-rate novelist and you find yourself carried along by a plot which provides numerous blind alleys and does not become clear until four-fifths of the way through.

The book is a thriller set largely in a hospital somewhere in inner-city London.

One of the main characters is nurse Ruby James, a single girl struggling with the dirty end of the job - It is all bed pans, vomit and sexual banter - but buoyed up by her passion for patients and pirate radio.

The other main character is a doctor, Jonathan Jeffreys. Or is he a manager ?

It is not too clear.With qualifications in medicine and economics he spends much of his time behind a computer, but also walks the wards in his white coat.

Jeffreys is a wealthy aesthete who lives in a posh hotel where he can indulge himself in the restaurant, gym, swimming pool and massage studio. His sexual tastes are bizarre and the one detailed exposition of his practices would not sit easily in the columns of HSJ.

It is difficult to outline the plot without giving the game away.

But this is a crime story with considerable contemporary resonance. It relies upon a general uneasiness rather than specifics - at least until the very end, when everything comes together in a dramatic and horrible depiction of pornographic sadism.

For the NHS professional, there are a number of unsatisfying depictions of hospital life.

Virtually everyone is a skinhead, a junkie or senile;

yet the hospital can afford the luxury of a 'gastro-enteritis ward'.

Neither real doctors nor real managers work - like Jeffreys - solely at night. Another niggle would be the rather overstated contrast between Jeffreys' opulence and the poverty of the world in which he lives and works.

Nonetheless, suspend a few small areas of disbelief and the tight working of the whole story will become apparent. Take it on holiday with you - but do not let the kids read it.