<p>Simon &amp; Schuster was unofficially the first to get a new Michael Jackson book into a retailers' hands, after the firm sent out reps to &quot;hand-deliver&quot; its title <i>Unmasked</i> to Waterstone's in Piccadilly last Tuesday. But both the S&amp;S book and HarperCollins' title <i>Legend, Hero, Icon </i>truly went on sale the following day&mdash;15th July&mdash;two days before schedule. Headline stuck to its 17th July billing for <i>Life of a Legend</i>, while John Blake shifted the release date for <i>King of Pop </i>forward more than a month to catch up with the others&mdash;from 24th August to 20th July.</p>
<p>I have now built up a collection of the new Michael Jackson books, with each of these four, published less than a month after the pop star's death, sitting on my desk. If a customer were browsing my desk as though it were a three-for-two &ndash; excuse the mess and leave the coffee where it is please&mdash;they would be faced with two &lsquo;commemorative' hardbacks &ndash; produced by Harper and Headline &ndash; and two text-heavy biographies of the man &ndash; S&amp;S and John Blake.</p>
<p>Although all four are of course emblazoned with the singer's name, both the Headline and John Blake books are most immediately eye-catching, thanks to the red and black background. Headline's book is about the size of a record, with a matt cover photo, which when compared to the glossy HarperCollins book, does seem a little more classy. I'm also not so keen on the various font sizes used on the back of the HC book&mdash;a method which appears throughout the Harper book, for quotes both about and by the man himself. Harper also wins the prize for largest print&ndash;is that really 72 point?&mdash;but really, it's an issue for all four books, and, of course, this is a symptom of the speed with which the books were put together and the time the authors had to write the copy, and I'm sure it will be a minor point for most customers.</p>
<p>In terms of content, there is not much to distinguish the two hardbacks &ndash; both Harper and Headline have gone for large page-size pictures with text filling up the space, alongside tracklists, timelines and trivia. Both follow Jackson's life chronologically, and pay attention more to the music than the scandals that followed him.</p>
<p>John Blake's book, despite being far more text-based, runs a similarly reverent course through Jacko's life &ndash; the inevitable chapter entitled &quot;Scandal&quot; doesn't appear until four-fifths of the way through and is dealt with relatively swiftly.</p>
<p>And so to the last of the four, albeit the first to be released. S&amp;S has gone for a different feel to the other publishers. Although it is, like the John Blake book, a paperback, the designers have plumped simply for a picture of Jacko waving&nbsp; &ndash; the only one of the three not to go for a touched-up image of him dancing.</p>
<p>This largely reflects the content, which has a far less respectful feel to it than the other three books. Despite the RIP and dedication to &quot;Michael's fans&quot; and his children, S&amp;S appears to be laying its cards on a different type of book buyer.</p>
<p>Much of the focus is the accusations of paedophilia that he faced during the 1990s &ndash; the subtitle is <i>The Final Years Of </i>and the author, Ian Halperin, has undertaken a &quot;five-year investigation&quot; to get to the &quot;real story&quot;.</p>
<p>This sees him largely concentrating on Jacko's sex life (&quot;I saw the smoking gun that Michael was homosexual and that his taste was for young men&quot;), fatherhood (&quot;I fully expect that it will emerge that the children had a test-tube conception&quot;), his changing skin colour and his financial troubles.</p>
<p>All very well if the browser is after the more salacious details in the singer's life, and certainly a unique selling point compared to the other three, but the author's habit of referring to himself in every other chapter put me off. The sense of pride at having predicted Jackson's death is palpable&mdash;but leaves a bad taste in the mouth&mdash;even for someone who was never a record-buying fan.</p>
<p>John Blake told me that at this stage fans will be more interested in commemorative titles that celebrate the singer's life, rather than books that explore the unseemly side of his life. So it will be interesting to see, as the sales figures come through, which book the punters go for.</p>
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