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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, September 12, 2004

Leave Reality Behind and Reach for a Work of Fiction

If you're tired of the political polemics and diet books dominating recent bestseller lists, and TV reruns have begun grating on your nerves, here's a few new fiction titles worthy of your interest.

Brimstone by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Warner Books, 2004).

The authors of Relic, Cabinet of Curiosities and other thrillers resurrect eccentric FBI Special Agent Pendergast and his colorful cohorts to investigate a couple of bizarre New York murders that just might be the work of the devil. Laced with arcane trivia like the Da Vinci Code, but written with more humor and skillful attention to detail, this is a winner.

Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick (Houghton Mifflin, 2004).

In this literary gem, an 18 year-old orphan takes an amorphous job with a large family of German Jewish refugees in New York during the Great Depression. Ozick has created a magical and intricate world where trials and tribulations continuously threaten but never overwhelm her marvelous and stalwart cast of characters.

Amagansett by Mark Mills (Putnam, 2004).

This critically acclaimed first novel immerses us in the rich seaside ambience of 1947 Long Island, where lines are sharply drawn between those who settled the island and the rich who vacation there. Many lives are impacted when a fisherman pulls up the body of a young woman who is the daughter of a privileged political family.

Life Mask by Emma Donoghue (Harcourt, 2004).

By the author of the wonderful historical novel Slammerkin, this is a deliciously dense and complicated 650-page novel that chronicles life in society London from 1787 and 1797. George III, the French Revolution, the Beau Monde, and the Drury Lane Theatre fill its teeming pages. Based entirely on actual historical personages, the novel ends with a six-page biographical dictionary.

Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver (Simon & Schuster, 2004).

A German-American hit man is offered a deal if he makes one last kill – a vital member of Hitler's regime. Set during the 1936 Berlin Olympics in Berlin and ending with a surprising twist, this is a departure for Deaver and definitely his best effort since the groundbreaking The Bone Collector.

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004).

I'd never given the time of day to Hiassen's previous ten comic mysteries set in southern Florida, but since this one kept hovering on all the top ten lists, I decided to give it a chance. I'm glad I did, because this guy is downright funny. No element or group of society escapes Hiassen's rapier wit in this steamy tale of corruption, attempted murder, and revenge.

Hidden by Paul Jaskunas (Free Press, c2004).

Finally – a modern novel set in southern Indiana and getting national attention! How exciting! But be forewarned that the author, raised in Indiana and now living in Arlington, Virginia, paints an extremely unflattering portrait of both Evansville and New Harmony in this novel of a young woman who, six years after being assaulted, learns that her abusive ex-husband has been exonerated of the crime and has been freed from prison. Read it out of curiosity.

The Tarnished Eye by Judith Guest (Scribner, 2004).

I'd kind of forgotten about Judith Guest (author of the award winning 1970's Ordinary People) until I picked up this psychological mystery set in northern Michigan. The main characters are well developed and likeable, but I was a somewhat disappointed by the abrupt plot resolution. I think Guest might be better at personality analysis than mystery.

No Ordinary Matter by Jenny McPhee (Free Press, 2004).

McPhee is the daughter of science writer John McPhee, from whom she has inherited a scientific bent obvious here as well as in her whimsical first novel, "The Center of Things." This one features a pair of quirky Manhattan-based twin sisters, a soap opera writer and a neurologist, who hire a private detective to investigate the mysterious auto accident that killed their father twenty-five years earlier. It's intriguing but rather cold.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.