Harper Collins, £9.99stg

Paulo Coelho doesn't just write – he crafts his magnificent tales. One of the most widely read authors in the world, his success is due the fact that he speaks to his readers' very souls, examining what it is to be human and what it is that makes us human, warts and all.

In 'The Devil and Miss Prym' Coelho takes as his starting point the basic theme of good versus evil. Are humans inherently good or is there always a set of circumstances that can make them turn to bad?

A stranger arrives in the remote village of Viscos; he has with him a notebook and eleven bars of gold. This man's proposal is simple: if by the end of the week one person from the village is found dead, he will give the gold bars to the villagers to do with as they may. No questions asked.

Viscos is so far from civilisation as to be unmarked on the map, no children have been born there in years and the town is dying. The people are strong in their community spirit but, as with any group, there are those among them who might be considered dispensable. The stranger chooses one young woman to bring his proposal to her neighbours.

Initially focusing on the inner struggle faced by his messenger Miss Prym, the story broadens out to examine the stranger's motivations and the dynamics of a small group of people faced with a tempting but terrible challenge.

Human greed, cowardice, fear and the very subject of temptation are dramatised in the most compelling way. What at first appears to be a simple tale of this age-old struggle is in fact something much more complicated – because the choice between good and evil is not always so simple to make.

Beautifully written and cleverly constructed, this is a book that can easily be read in an afternoon, but the questions it raises will stay with you for a lot longer.

Cristín Leach