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Monday, November 03, 2003

A word about the bestsellers 

Oh goody. Janet's doing her "gee I wonder" breathless act as she gabs about some of the current blockbusters, and the famous author "brands" behind them. It doesn't matter what they write, how massive it is (think Neal Stephenson) or how tiny (Mitch Albom): the latest from Stephen King, James (and the Ghostwriter Factory) Patterson and Patricia Cornwell signifies an event.

Further about Albom's runaway success THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN:

Other popular books fall into a Mini category, to the point where their size is a selling point. Sure, Mitch Albom's "Five People You Meet in Heaven" could have been about 23 people you meet in heaven instead. But Mr. Albom, the author of "Tuesdays With Morrie" — who may have an even bigger hit with this new book, since it taps into the baby boom generation's fear of death — chooses to keep this book short, sweet and colorful. You may not even want to wait for the movie version to discover that one of the five people is blue.

Dammit, why did she have to spoil the fact that this is the aforementioned blue soul?

Anyway, after tut-tutting her way through the entire piece, Janet offers a glimmer of hope for those who want well-written brain candy:

If this is mainstream, where are the simple best-seller basics? (Good yarn, good characters, good time.) For now at least, they're in the South. Both James Lee Burke's "Last Car to Elysian Fields" and Stephen Hunter's "Havana" feature dynamic plotting. (Mr. Hunter opens with a gangster shooting a horse in Times Square.) And they present the authors' familiar, likable leading men, heroes who hail from New Orleans (Mr. Burke's Dave Robicheaux) and Arkansas (Mr. Hunter's Earl Swagger, who winds up in Cuba).

Allow me to add several more suggestions, a little off the bestseller beaten track (because you all knew I would, naturally): if police procedurals are your thing, there's A LONG DECEMBER, the latest in Donald Harstad's excellent series set in small town Iowa. Less folksy and a hell of a lot more noir is VIXEN, Ken Bruen's latest installment in his Brixton-set series. For PI fare that's far beyond genre conventions, there's Jim Fusilli, who continues a wonderfully developing series with TRIBECA BLUES, and Paul Johnston's THE LAST RED DEATH, a Greece-set political thriller with a sweeping canvas. For crime fiction that doesn't easily fit into a niche (and all the better for that) there's Sean Doolittle's BURN and the wrenchingly noir KISS IT AWAY from Carol Anne Davis. Because paperback originals are truly the ugly stepchildren of the genre, it's only fair that I highlight a few, including Alina Adams' droll MURDER ON ICE and MG Kincaid's upcoming THE LAST VICTIM IN GLEN ROSS. I've already talked about Laura Lippman and Dan Fesperman to death here, but no harm in bringing up the Best of Baltimore up once again. And because it comes the closest to my pseudo-utopian "Yid Noir" ideal (aside from being an excellent crime novel) I bring you SITTING SHIVA by Elliot Feldman. All good stuff, and since the Christmas commercials have begun, no time like the present to give your friends and family some great reads instead of the usual bestseller fare.



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