John was a skilled man, a carpenter and cabinet-maker, and he had the tools to prove it - hammers of different weights, chisels of different breadths, screwdrivers of different sizes, wood saws, jigsaws, fret saws, hacksaws, keyhole saws. But he was unemployed. By the time he was thirty-four, he had been made redundant five times. When he was a single man, this didn't worry him too much. He simply took his box of tools and found himself bits and bobs of work from friends and neighbours. But now he had a wife and two small children to support so he signed on for State benefit. He and his family found it hard to get by on the money they were given but, when he tried to do a little carpentry work on the side to make ends meet, he was warned very sternly that, if he was caught doing that, he would lose benefit. So slowly, over a period of time, to cover the costs of keeping his family, he sold each and everyone of his tools. (from Nick Davies: Dark Heart, Chatto & Windus, 1997)

Nick Davies, an investigative journalist at The Guardian, has done for the poor of 1990s Leeds what Guy de Maupassant, in his short stories, did for the middle-class of 19th century France. In language even terser than Maupassant's Davies describes in Dark Heart their lives of quiet desperation, their doomed struggles against lack of money. Often

in Davies's true stories as in Maupassant's fiction, some weakness or chance misfortune turns struggle into disaster.