Bill Branon

Attention, harried taxpayers: Have we got a thriller for you! With a convincing dash of Tom Clancy-style techno-detail, a cast of ail-American misfits reminiscent of an Elmore Leonard caper and an attitude Ollie North might applaud, this edgy first novel takes high-powered aim at one of your favorite targets: the IRS.

Let Us Prey's pivotal figure, millionaire patriot Rayburn Varki, has a unique plan for reducing the long arm of the federal government: blow up IRS centers across the nation, jam the tax collectors' computers and thereby hobble the boys who are siphoning off the country's lifeblood into their own pockets and pork-barrel schemes.

To accomplish his grandiose designs, Varki assembles a vivid and vulpine pack of mercenaries that includes a money-laundering priest, a rogue Air Force colonel, a weight-lifting hit man and a Las Vegas call girl. Alas, despite some realistic pyrotechnics and enough blood to float an offshore bank, the plan runs aground.

Branon, a Harvard grad and retired Navy captain, infuses every page with exquisite realism. From how to sight in a sniper rifle to the kind of cuff links a Vegas pit boss wears, a reader senses that the author didn't do research—he did the work. All the more extraordinary, Prey couldn't find a home at first. The author published it himself in 1992 and sold 13,000 copies on his own before HarperCollins bought it. Branon cut roughly 250 pages from his original manuscript. With every page begging to be turned, thriller fans can only, er, pray that next time he will deliver the whole package. (HarperCollins, $22)

by Jean Marsh

Novelization" is not a term to strike confidence in the hearts of readers. This effort, by the Emmy Award-winning actress and co-creator of both Upstairs. Downstairs and the Arts & Entertainment network production of The House of Eliott, will probably be savored most by fans of the Sunday-night A&E series who need to feed their fix during the week.

Marsh, who played plucky parlor maid Rose in Upstairs, Downstairs, has furnished The House of Eliott with two plucky heroines: Beatrice, hot-tempered and, at 30, convinced that she is doomed to spinsterhood; and her beautiful younger sister Evangeline.

The two women are forced to make their way in 1922 London after the death of their autocratic father. It doesn't help that Bea and Evie must contend with a vain aunt, an evil cousin and their father's scandalous past.

To her credit, Marsh expands her story to give a sense of the class struggle and the political unrest of the '20s. The Home of Eliott goes down easily—the most a novelization can hope for. (St. Martin's Press, $20.95)

by Rod arid Bob Jackson-Paris

This is a gay take on the old love-at-first-sight story, related with all the heart-thumping language of a romance novel. In 1985, bodybuilder Bob Paris (who would become Mr. Universe 1989) first locked eyes on model Rod Jackson in a Denver gym.

Rod on Bob: "My heart went woo-ooh." Four pages later: "My knees went woo-ooh." Bob on his first dinner with Rod: "We started talking about politics, and we got off on social issues and starving children and what novels we liked." After a chapter or two of this, the most open-minded reader's stomach will be going woo-ooh—even before encountering the couple's love poems.

Lost somewhere in the awkward he-said, he-said format of this book is a legitimate plea for tolerance. Today the Jackson-Parises, who wed in 1989, work with a nonprofit foundation to fund support programs for gay and lesbian teens, and they are readying Bob and Rod, an art book of photographs. Smart move—they should stay away from purple prose. (Warner, $21.95)

by Michael Azerrad

In one of their first meetings, Kurt Cobain and future wife Courtney Love—the most infamous punk couple since Sid and Nancy—expressed their mutual attraction in a unique way. They duked it out. "It was a mating ritual for dysfunctional people," Courtney explained. Azerrad includes that and other great moments in grunge history in this all-warts bio.

Although the reader may want to hear less about Nirvana recording sessions and more from Courtney, an almost perversely original and hilariously outspoken woman, the book offers a fascinating study of Cobain. He dominates the story as he does his band and all who fall into his orbit—save Courtney.

With its chronicle of Cobain's struggles lo overcome heroin addiction—he began shooting it to relieve chronic stomach pains—the book seemed destined to stand as an obituary last month when the singer overdosed on champagne and prescribed tranquilizers, then sank into a coma. Preparing to resume an interrupted European tour, Cobain is recovered now, his rather bent sense of humor, fans would hope, intact. He had wanted, Cobain told Azerrad, lo title In Utero, Nirvana's last album, I Hate Myself and I Want to Die. "That's what our songs are about," he said. "So I thought it was appropriate.'' (Double-day, $15)

by Paul Chutkow

With the mooshed-in face of a bad soccer goalie, Gérard Depardieu, 45, is hardly the typical idea of a French actor worth importing. Yet this evocative, authorized biography makes the actor seem more interesting and serious than the image he has polished in his films.

Chutkow shows that Depardieu is a committed, generous man and sketches in enough background to make the book rewarding as a social history. Especially intriguing is Depardieu's hometown, Châteauroux, which was occupied by the Nazis during World War IT, then became the site of a U.S. air base. The village was a superstitious old hamlet, and Chutkow credulously describes Depardieu's belief in magic. None of the actor's brushes with fame are detailed as vividly as his relationship with Châteauroux. But better that than reading about Gérard's trying to "sate his creative demons." (Knopf, $24)

>Bill Branon

A TAXING SITUATION

"THIS BOOK WROTE ITSELF," SAYS BILL Branon, 56, who retired in 1985. "I'd get up at 3 a.m., pick a few characters out of the air and say, 'Okay, folks, we're going to La Paz today,' and the words would just start popping." Branon's anti-IRS plot, however, bubbled up from his deep fury over how the agency ''harassed'-his youngest son, Mark, now 30. In the early '80s, Mark spent two years in prison on weapons-and drug-possession charges. "He deserved what he got," says his father, "but when he'd served his lime and was trying to start a small landscaping business, the IRS came down the pike, saying he owed them money. It just got my hair up, and I started writing."

Branon decided to publish Let Us Prey himself after the first publisher he approached asked him to soften its tone. Using a do-it-yourself guide, he tracked down printers and distributors, spent $7,200 on the first 5,000 copies, then published more editions with the profits. "I even shot the cover myself in my garage," says Branon, who got IRS permission to burn a 1040 form for a photograph and inadvertenlly set his garage door on fire.

Favorable reviews brought a six-figure offer from HarperCollins. Hollywood has also expressed interest, says Branon, who lives in Encinitas, Calif., with his wife, Lolly, and their mult Wiley ("a cross between a Doberman and an exorcist"). Taxes, of course, have taken a big bite out of his earnings. With 40 percent going to the feds, 10 percent to the slate and 7.5 percent to social security, Branon says he has been left with just about enough to upgrade a '79 Plymouth to a '93 Olds.

  • Contributors:
  • J.D. Reed,
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • David Ellis,
  • Steve Dougherty,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Kristin McMurran.