Book 'em" just doesn't mean the same thing anymore to Cliff Janeway. A former Denver cop, this hard-boiled straight shooter has recently switched careers. Now he's an antiquarian book dealer. But Janeway's new world has more in common with his old one than he'd like, as he quickly discovers when he accepts a case thrown to him by a former colleague.
On the surface the job sounds easy enough: fly to Seattle to fetch a young woman who has jumped bail after being charged with the attempted murder of a mysterious book collector, which was committed while trying to steal a rare volume printed by the legendary Grayson brothers. But before long, Janeway realizes that he's in a race against a serial killer, one it will take both his cop-and book-smarts to capture.
After initially stumbling with an overly talky setup, Dunning quickly hits his stride in this, the second of his Janeway mysteries. (He has written five other books.) The author, himself a former rare-book dealer, immerses the reader in this intriguing, little-known milieu without losing sight of the page-turning yarn he's spinning. In the end you may be disappointed that the last plot twist has finally played itself out—and even sorrier that the vividly described Grayson oeuvre, with silken book jackets and sheets that "had the feel of another century," exists only in Dunning's imagination. (Scribner, $21)
by Katharine Weber
Too cleverly titled for its own good, this first novel—about, among other things, perception versus reality—is maddeningly fuzzy around the edges. An unexplained fellowship lands Manhattan photographer Harriet Rose, 26, in Geneva, where she spends a month mostly hanging out with and fretting about her friend Anne Gordon.
In long, unsent letters to Benedict, her boyfriend back home, Harriet laments that Anne has metamorphosed into "something far beyond [the] old queerly tentative self." But the charming Anne of old is never clearly drawn, nor is her miserable present-day affair with a 60ish, married concentration-camp survivor.
Weber's writing is intelligent, her prose admirably spare, and she manages to conjure an intriguing atmosphere. But her players never rise above their personas—the eccentric Harriet and the grounded Benedict as the complementary yin-yang lovers, Anne and Victor as the conflicted May-December couple.
The author tries to fill in the blanks by taking us back to Harriet's childhood and the circumstances that compel her to rescue Anne; Weber also explains the complex source of Anne's despair—too deep for Harriet to imagine or correct. But these devices, as well as the multiple references to mirrors and reflections, fail to flesh out a cast of characters that remains too distant to care much about. (Crown, $23)
by George Foreman and Joel Engel
In the opening pages, Foreman tells about overhearing an argument between his wife and 10-year-old son. "I'm not going to wear those [pants]," Little George said. "I don't want to look poor." Investigating, Foreman found the pants to be a pair of clean, neatly pressed, if faded, jeans. Suddenly he realized that "my boy had no idea what poor really meant...I'd never bothered to explain to him where I'd come from."
By George is Foreman's fascinating act of reparation. It follows his rise from Dickensian beginnings in Houston's "bloody" Fifth Ward—where he and his four siblings "mended holes in our shoes with cardboard"—to his winning the heavyweight championship in 1973, only to lose it to Muhammad Ali. The book's second half traces Foreman's transformation from the bully shaped by the hunger and anger of his childhood into the affable, bald-pated gaffer who mainlines hamburgers, preaches the gospel and KOs men half his age.
Foreman spins his wonderful tale with characteristic humor. Mounting his late '80s comeback, Foreman, who had put on 100 lbs., tried to slip into his old boxing togs. "Man," he told his wife, "this stuff has shrunk!" (Villard, $23)
by Patrick O'Brian
Other authors have readers; Patrick O'Brian has addicts. Hooked on his 17-volume, Aubrey-Maturin series, they will become weak and wobbly from the first sentence of The Commodore: "Thick weather in the chops of the Channel and a dirty night, with the strong north-east wind bringing rain from the low sky and racing cloud: Ushant somewhere away on the starboard bow, the Scillies to larboard, but never a light, never a star to be seen; and no observation for the last four days."
For those coming in late: O'Brian's series follows the fortunes of two friends, Royal Navy Capt. Jack Aubrey and doctor-naturalist-spy Stephen Maturin, during the Napoleonic wars. A lesser writer could take the same material and produce romantic claptrap; O'Brian creates literature. Although the books are built on plots linked to sea battles and traitors, the heart of the enterprise is O'Brian's nuanced depiction of human relationships—especially friendship and love, as they evolve over time—and his ability to create a world so detailed, it seems touchable.
The Commodore brings Aubrey and Maturin home to London after a five-volume journey around the world. Although O'Brian introduces a couple of intertwining plots about the slave trade and a planned French landing in Ireland, his real goal seems to be tying up loose ends—and having fun while doing it. Newcomers, therefore, may feel a bit at sea, and veterans will find the tone lighter perhaps than any volume in the series. (Norton, $22.50)
by Diana Dubois
Even if you give Lee Radziwill a break—it can't have been easy being Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's younger, plainer sister—she appears to have led a rather frivolous life, or so suggests freelance writer Dubois in this unauthorized biography.
One of the original jet-setters, Radziwill, now 62, flitted around the world for years chasing the center of the action. After two failed marriages, first to publishing heir Michael Canfield, then to Polish nobleman Prince Stas Radziwill, she hung out, in the late '60s, with writer Truman Capote, had a fling with photographer Peter Beard and attached herself to a Rolling Stones tour. Today she is married to director Herbert Ross, whose credits include Steel Magnolias and The Turning Point.
Radziwill, a self-described original, searched for a form of self-expression that would get her noticed by someone other than gossip columnists. But DuBois argues that she lacked the discipline to stick to anything for long. She made a clumsy foray into acting, appearing onstage in The Philadelphia Story and in a poorly reviewed TV version of the movie classic Laura. (Her young niece and nephew, Caroline and John Kennedy, were perhaps her biggest fans; we're told that they thrilled at the sight of their aunt necking in prime time.)
In 1973, Radziwill signed a hefty contract to write a memoir but later abandoned the project. In 1974 she tried hosting a TV talk show, but Conversations with Lee Radziwill died in the ratings. Only as an interior designer did she enjoy some success, but she quit that, complaining it was too taxing.
While DuBois relied on anonymous sources for her most salacious material, she also uses on-the-record interviews, along with previously published material to fill out her portrait of the little sister who struggled to emerge from behind Jackie O's long shadow. (Little, Brown, $23.95)
by John Sandford
Beach Book of the Week
IN HIS SEVENTH, AND BEST, OUTING IN the acclaimed Prey suspense series, Minneapolis detective and successful computer-game designer Lucas Davenport faces his most cunning adversary. Psychopathic killer John Mail is also a skilled computer gamer, and he competes with Davenport for ultimate stakes. The contest moves to an adrenaline-pumping level when Mail kidnaps his former psychiatrist Andi Manette and her two young daughters. While parrying Mail's moves, Davenport races to discover the mastermind who is pushing the madman's buttons. He has plenty of suspects—including Manette's temperamental ex-husband and her jealous and vindictive professional partner. The machismo is mellowed by the fact that Andi and her oldest daughter have surprising and effective physical and psychological resources of their own. Andi may not be Catwoman, but she knows how to roar. (Putnam's, $23.95)
The best of Sandford in paperback: Rules of Prey and Night Prey. Both are published by Berkeley.
THE THRILL OF THE HUNT
If John Dunning, 53, kept his book collection in his Denver home, there wouldn't be space for his family. Fortunately for the clan—wife Helen, his 84-year-old mother, also named Helen, and kids James, 21, and Katie, 17—the writer rents storage space to house his more than 8,000 volumes, mostly mysteries saved from the Old Algonquin Book Store he closed last year. "To me, it's the second greatest game in the world," says Dunning, still an avid book hunter. "The greatest is writing them yourself."
Why do you write on the old manual typewriter your father gave you?
Computers are destructive to the creative process—it's a left-brain machine used in right-brain work. If I retype a page, I benefit even if I don't change a comma, because it drives the story deeper into your subconscious, which is where the book gets written.
You've called your hero, Janeway, "the man I wish I were." Why?
As a former police reporter [for the Denver Post], I admire good cops. But mainly, I think he's a guy with the courage you always wish you would have—and that you're afraid you wouldn't. Of course, there are some things about him that are not quite admirable—like going around the law to catch a criminal—but that's what you do to make a character well-rounded.
What was your own best book find?
Once in a thrift store I bought Wild-flowers of America, a beautifully illustrated 16- or 17-volume set, for $65.1 learned later that it goes for something like $1,700—which was a shock even to me. That was a really nice day.
- Pam Lambert,
- Paula Chin,
- William Plummer,
- Cutler Durkee,
- Clare McHugh,
- J.D. Reed.