By J. Randy Taraborrelli

Princess Grace was one Cinderella who thought about leaving her Prince Charming, claims celebrity biographer Taraborrelli (Madonna: An Intimate Biography). Depressed by personal sacrifices she made for Prince Rainier of Monaco, whom she had married in 1956, and feeling cooped up in her 220-room palace, Grace once consulted a lawyer about a divorce but resigned herself to the marriage, this bio reports.

Grace, who died in a 1982 car wreck, had difficult times with men; when she was single she was involved with William Holden and Ray Mil-land, both married. And Rainier, now 79, reportedly pressured her to give up acting. In encyclopedia-style prose, Taraborrelli revels in unhappy moments, but sharp details (Grace had good-luck pennies sewn into her wedding slippers) make a legend breathe. (Warner, $25.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Gloomy but competent bio

By Melissa Fay Greene

Residents of Springhill, N.S., expected a "bump" every so often, the distant boom of the local 13,000-ft.-deep coal mine when it shifted. One fine October evening in 1958, a monster bump shook the town and trapped 174 men in the mine. What follows is a nail-biting account of how the men struggle to keep hold of their spirits as they starve and wait, sharing dreams of sunlight and family. The fate of the men who did not survive is grotesque almost beyond bearing, but the lacerating effects of momentary fame damage the survivors also. In a series of devastating, finely drawn portraits, Greene, author of the acclaimed social history Praying for Sheetrock, deeply examines the lives of her characters, showing their intimate, playful sides as well as the sturdy reticence of men too strong to admit they may be doomed. (Harcourt, $25)

BOTTOM LINE: A tragic triumph

By Robert Dallek

Let's get right to the juicy part: Yes, Kennedy's womanizing makes Bill Clinton's dalliances seem merely naughty by comparison. But Kennedy's epic conquests were tied to an acute sense of mortality, concludes biographer Dallek, who writes that JFK was far more promiscuous with drugs. Revealing previously undisclosed medical information, Dallek details the chronic bone, glandular and abdominal diseases that hospitalized Kennedy for months at a stretch and led to excruciating pain, for which he took an almost Elvis-sized array of steroids, amphetamines, Phenobarbital and coals-to-Newcastle quantities of testosterone.

Neither debunking nor further mythologizing, Dallek fashions a balanced but fast-paced tale of sex and power that scribes from Shakespeare to Susann would have killed for. (Little, Brown, $30)

BOTTOM LINE: Camelot confidential shines

Edited by Terry McCoy

There are no vintage cars, grizzled cigarmakers or mambo kings—and in a coffee-table book on Cuba the absence of clichés is reason enough to be grateful. But McCoy gives readers more cause for rejoicing by collecting original essays from such writers as Arthur Miller and Susan Orlean to go with photos by Carrie Mae Weems, René Peña and others. The words are as powerful as the pictures. "The goal," writes McCoy, "is to convey Cuba...with a sense of accuracy and humanity."

Mission accomplished: From girl-friends in Havana playing dominoes to beautiful and eerily empty rural landscapes, this is a fresh and moving portrait of modern Cuba. And it's timely. As the U.S. government tightens its embargo by making it even more difficult for Americans to visit the island, these photos are the closest most outsiders will get to the Cuban people. (Bulfinch, $50)

BOTTOM LINE: Picture-perfect

By Chuck Logan

Chuck Logan set his previous best-selling novel Absolute Zero in the winter wilds of Minnesota. This time Luddite investigator Phil Broker—whose wife walked out on him with their daughter—sweats through a Gopher State heat wave. As a hired gun for the Stillwater, Minn., police, retiree Broker makes a reluctant return to help crack the case of a vigilante killer known as the Saint, who is executing child molesters. The prime suspects are Logan's former partner Harry Cantrell, a drunk with a sobering sense of revenge, and the prim prosecutor Gloria Russell, who can't forget the pedophile she couldn't convict. The killer is finally unmasked, but a tantalizing twist virtually ensures we'll meet Broker and his shattered family again. Give Logan a hand for all the surprises in this intelligent, intriguing thriller about revenge, loyalty and courage, but the best surprise is that Vapor Trail is old-fashioned, gimmick-free storytelling. (HarperCollins, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: A hot read

By April Smith

Critic's Choice

bgwhite    



You have to love Ana Grey. She is smart, loves sex, cruises around in a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda convertible and, as an FBI agent, solves kidnapping cases. When 15-year-old Juliana Meyer-Murphy is abducted, Ana and her boyfriend, Santa Monica police detective Andrew Berringer, work the case together. After Juliana turns up raped and beaten, Ana forges an emotional bond with her that grows as Ana becomes obsessed with catching the girl's attacker, a serial rapist. But soon Ana herself will be charged with attempted murder after a shooting.

In her third novel, Smith, a former writer for such shows as Cagney & Lacey, provides all the elements of a great mystery: pointed dialogue, vivid characters and a rocket-propelled narrative. Ana Grey is so real it feels as though you are sitting next to her in her muscle car. You won't be able to stop rooting for her—or stop reading. (Knopf, $24)

BOTTOM LINE: Oh, what a beautiful Morning

Don't miss these lady gumshoes:

ONE FOR THE MONEY by Janet Evanovich: Smart, funny Stephanie Plum's first case.

POSTMORTEM by Patricia Cornwell: The gritty debut of tenacious medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta.

AN UNSUITABLE JOB FOR A WOMAN by P.D. James: English P.I. Cordelia Gray follows an intricate murder maze.

'G' IS FOR GUMSHOE by Sue Grafton: Kinsey Millhone's best alphabet mystery.

  • Contributors:
  • Andrea L. Sachs,
  • Arion Berger,
  • Steve Dougherty,
  • Christina Cheakalos,
  • Cathy Burke,
  • Rob Taub.