Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (Corsair/Little Brown, paperback £8.99)

Jennifer Egan’s 2011 work of fiction A Visit From The Goon Squad was experimental to say the least, consisting of a loosely-connected series of stories set in the music business and with one chapter written entirely in PowerPoint from a 12-year-old’s perspective.

This new book, set in 1930’s Manhattan, adopts a more conventional approach, being what the author calls a “heroine-driven adventure story” set in a time when women had little opportunity to plan their own lives.

The heroine in question is Anna Kerrigan, who we first see as an 11 year old accompanying her father on a work assignment. We later learn that the father is a bag carrier for the mob. When he suddenly and mysteriously disappears from her family’s life, Anna is revealed as a devoted carer to her disabled sister and as a determined individual who won’t take no for an answer, particularly in her attempts to enrol as a diver at the shipyard, where huge allied warships are taken for repair.

This is a welcome fancy on the part of the author as in real life, this sort of dangerous war work was an exclusively male domain. All Anna’s diving scenes in the book are extraordinary, from the donning of heavy equipment to the murky darkness of the water and the boats humming as if alive. She is a heroine we can easily root for as she forges a path through an often dangerous world.

The book is meticulously researched and populated by many fascinating characters: the other divers, mob boss Dexter Styles, the free-spirited Aunt, the housebound sister who Anna is determined to show the beauty of the sea. It is a book that looks out from the Manhattan coast as much as inland. Some interesting tangents and jumps between characters and time all combine in style to make this a joyful read and one of my very favourite paperbacks of the year so far.

Reviewed by Tim Curtis, Little Apple bookshop