In Stamping Butterflies British writer Jon Courtenay Grimwood twines two narratives into a circular vision of time. In a present similar to our own, a supposed madman who has been living on the street tries to assassinate the president of the United States. He gets close enough to shoot but misses and is immediately apprehended. After he is taken into custody, his case becomes a worldwide phenomenon as everyone from the man on the street to the pope puts forward opinions on what to do with him. The mystery of the assassin's history is simultaneously explored, giving Grimwood plenty of opportunities for the detailed world-building at which he excels. In a parallel narrative, Grimwood examines the propensity of films and video games to present mass murder as nothing unusual by portraying a far-future Chinese emperor who doesn't believe in his perceived reality. His violent killing of those around him in the mistaken belief that they aren't real is reminiscent of such films as Star Wars or The Matrix.

Grimwood, who wrote the coruscating Arabesk series of alternate history thrillers, is presented as one of the best-kept secrets of British writing, but if he keeps producing mind-bending page-turners such as this, he won't be a secret for long.

Gavin J. Grant is the co-editor of The Year's Best Fantasy &andamp; Horror: 2006 (St. Martin's).

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