This year's book review includes an unmissable contract dictionary, even if it was attended by a meeting with the men in black, including a ghost from the Seventies
I thought my time had come. Three clerics smiled at me from behind beaming, bearded faces. Cassocked head to toe in black garb, each sporting an enormous dangling crucifix. "Is that the latest edition?" asked what looked like the spitting image of the late Archbishop Makarios. He prodded the cover. I was reading the third edition of Building Contract Dictionary (Blackwell Science, £59.50). This man of God had come to take me away for reading a book about "words, phrases and terms encountered in, and in connection with, building contracts".

"Damn good man," said the priest, pointing to the original author, Vincent Powell-Smith. "Dead though." "Oh, dear," I replied. "Did you take him away, too?"

Buy this super reference book. It has 800 separate entries, from "abatement" to "without prejudice" with really helpful stops in between. And when some high falutin' barrister or judge mutters "a fortiori argument", you can smile and reply with equal force that "such argument is always open to a variety of logical criticisms"… that's what the book says.

I always like the books penned by David Chappell; he, together with Derek Marshall and construction barrister Simon Cavender, builds on Vincent Powell-Smith's firm foundation all those years ago.

It seems that Vincent Powell-Smith was a life-time friend of my cassocked inquisitor, who turned out to be an orthodox bishop of the Coptic Church.

I made for the Tube station and found myself going down a long escalator. "Shouldn't I being go up?" I asked myself.

Buy this super reference book. And when some high falutin’ barrister or judge mutters a fortiori you can smile – and reply with equal force

Last year I had a whinge at Sweet & Maxwell. Its top-class seventh edition of Keating on Building Contracts (£225) needed a CD-ROM tucked in the back cover. "Come-on," I said, "get your act in order." It did, or rather, it already had. Keating, complete with excellent search engine, is available on CD-ROM. What's more, it also contains Building Contracts Dispute by Robert Fenwick Elliott, Construction and Engineering Precedents by Marshall Levine (let's have some more of that author); Construction and Engineering Arbitration by Peter Sheriden; all and every edition of Construction Law Journal (1984 to date – wow!); The Construction Year Law Book (1994 to date); CEDR rules of Mediation; The Technology & Construction Law Reports, and, finally, an index of cases (click and get a précis).

How much is that lot? £845 for one user, £1390 for two to five users and £2307 for six to 10 users. So, if there are 10 of you, you fork out £230 or so each. So far so good. I like that price and having used this disk for a four-month trial, I am sold. Snag? The Sweet & Maxwell deal asks for the same lump sum for year two. For this sum, the disk is updated six times a year.

I think this means that each bi-monthly edition of Construction Law Journal and the recent construction law cases are installed in the latest disk. The updates are outrageously overpriced. Buy Construction Law Service on CD-ROM, then stop.

Finally, another Blackwell Publishing contribution from David Chappell. It is the third edition of Parris' Standard Form of Building Contract, (£49.50), first written in 1982 by barrister, journalist and author John Parris. He tackled what was then the brand new JCT 1980 form of building contract. He was a master of that sort of guidance, though controversial. In the 20 years of use, oodles has been learned about that industry standard form, and Chappell takes up the task of updating and completely rewriting a commentary. Chappell has the advantage over Parris since the latest author can point to numerous, nay hundreds of judicial utterances about JCT 80, whereas Parris relied on his own opinion of what judges might say. He knew, better than most, that the crystal ball on judges is like a foggy day in London town.

Of the first edition, John Uff said that it was "stimulatingly argumentative and full of controversy and novelty". Chappell is not of that ilk. He rarely advances a view without supporting the analysis with cases and precedents.