by Padgett Powell

Fifteen years after Simons Manigault left the beach at Edisto, he has returned to this fictional backwater on the South Carolina coast. His mother's expectations for him to be a writer—brilliantly captured in Powell's 1984 debut, Edisto—have diminished, but so has his drive in this meandering tale that's as much about avoiding responsibility as accepting it. "I don't have the big picture," he complains in Edisto Revisited. Neither does his first cousin Patricia Hod, but that hardly keeps the amorous sparks from flying between them.

This wisp of a story is another coming-of-age novel. Having cleared the hurdle of adolescence, Manigault is now facing the challenge of determining his identity. Looking for answers not to be found in bed with Hod, he hits the open road and the open bottle, tracking down his childhood mentor, Taurus, who encourages him to thumb his nose at ambition. Manigault returns to the beach, content to let life unfold rather than force its hand.

With this second go-round, Powell seems to be thumbing his nose at expectations that might have followed Edisto. Yet while the plot runs thin, his humor and sense of character once more prevail, deftly capturing that time of life when the pressure to be someone can be overwhelming. (Henry Holt, $25)

by Robert Shapiro with Larkin Warren

Published just a few days after In Contempt, Christopher Darden's anguished howl against O.J. Simpson's acquittal, Shapiro's book is, by comparison, a low-decibel defense of his infamous client. He insists that "not guilty" was the proper verdict because the prosecution's "mountain of evidence collapsed under an avalanche of incompetence, contamination and lies." Yet Shapiro waffles on the question of O.J.'s innocence ("I wasn't there") and pointedly distances himself from the man he spent 16 months helping set free. "We never had a personal relationship before," he writes, "and we won't have one in the future."

What Shapiro and cowriter Warren, a former Esquire editor, seem more interested in focusing on is the lawyerly cunning displayed by the author and his handpicked Dream Team of attorneys. A former amateur boxer, Shapiro casts himself as a cagey fighter called to battle against incompetent prosecutors, back-stabbing cocounsels and the ravenous, irresponsible media. He gobbles up credit for major defense victories (such as coaching Simpson on how to model the ill-fitting bloody gloves) and righteously deplores F. Lee Bailey's grandstanding and Johnnie Cochran's race-baiting.

Surprisingly, this self-serving focus pays off: The book is as taut, dramatic and even suspenseful as a top-notch legal thriller. A dazzling display of ego (his own ego, Shapiro admits, "is in pretty good shape"), The Search for Justice is also a fresh and revealing take on the overanalyzed trial of the century. (Warner, $24.95)

Edited by Evelyn McDonnell and Ann Powers

True, the only really zealous readers of rock music criticism are the people who write it. But this compilation of criticism and reporting by female interlopers in what has been, until recently, almost exclusively a boys' club, amounts to a lost treasure of pop literature. While frequently given fluff assignments and asked to schlepp coffee in the newspaper and magazine offices where they worked, women writers sometimes encountered worse outside it. "Often the musicians...saw you as a groupie with a tape recorder," former Creem magazine writer Jaan Uhelszki writes. But as the two former "chick critics" who edited this collection prove, women writers often brought a female perspective and passion to a genre that at its worst can read like it was written by boys who, notes critic Georgia Christgau, sound like "they're really into the stats."

Indeed, no guy scribe could hope to match Uhelszki's 1975 encounter with one group of notorious dudes: "I Dreamed I Was Onstage with Kiss in My Maidenform Bra." And few men would think of describing punk music as "a garbage disposal with a fork in it," as fanzine writer Lisa Carver does in "Why I Want to Rape Olivia Newton-John (Because I'm a Troubled Young Lady)." While some pieces slow to textbook pace, others, particularly those by writer-performers Patti Smith ("Masked Ball"), Marianne Faithfull ("Faithfull") and Kim Gordon ("Boys Are Smelly: Sonic Youth Tour Diary, '87)," move and delight in ways writers of any gender would be proud. (Dell, $15.95)

by Alice Walker

In the decade since the movie adaptation of Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple, countless fans have asked her, "What did you think of the film?" Now Walker has collected diary entries, correspondence, her original screenplay (which director Steven Spielberg chose not to use) and other paraphernalia pertaining to the movie and presented it as her response.

As a detailed examination of how literature gets translated to the screen, The Same River Twice falls way short. As a series of flaky Walkerite observations, though, it's fine. The author has hardly a harsh word for anyone involved in the movie, even though she says it gave her a headache when she first saw it. (She brought a good luck charm with her to the New York City premiere and found on second viewing that she loved the movie.)

Walker admits that she didn't make millions on this megamovie. The book includes her 1987 letter to Steve Ross, then head of Warner Communications (who died in 1992, after Warner merged with Time Inc.), complaining that she had never received her three percent of The Color Purple's gross. Even Walker, who says she was eventually paid "a portion of her monies" and who sees goodness everywhere, has a hard time honoring the difficulty of untangling Hollywood accounting. (Scribner, $24)

by Tsutomu Shimomura with John Markoff

In the age of the Internet and cyber-crooks, computer security expert Tsutomu Shimomura may be the quintessential good guy—Elliot Ness, Clark Kent and Sam Spade rolled into one. Or that's what New York Times writer Markoff would have readers believe. He has written an engaging account of how Shimomura tracked down Kevin Mitnick, a dark-side hacker-thief of corporate secrets, phone operating systems and credit card numbers. Although Markoff has been criticized for glorifying Shimomura and demonizing Mitnick, the story reads like a detective novel from the pre-e-mail era.

Shimomura practically never leaves his desk as he chases Mitnick through the nation's telecommunications system. Along the way the reader learns the true vulnerability of much of the information hurled through modems, computers and cell phones every day, and gets acquainted with a new type of detective.

Private eyes in pulp fiction used to be lone wolves subsisting on whiskey and cigarettes; Shimomura dates a yoga instructor/computer programmer, skis cross-country and eats veggie burgers. And he fervently believes that the Internet can unite people and improve the world—if hackers like Mitnick, who break and enter computer systems to steal valuable information, can be stopped. Somewhere Ness is cheering. (Hyperion, $24.95)

by Mary Wings

Page-Turner of the Week

GUMSHOE EMMA VICTOR IS HAVING the mother of all bad days. Soon after this engaging mystery opens, she gets mugged. Then her longtime lover Frances splits. Next, Emma, the lesbian heroine of two previous mysteries, shows up at gay San Francisco's most gala dinner only to discover that the hostess is wearing the same skimpy, sequined number she is—and looks better in it, even as she lies dying of poison. But there's no time for Emma to lick her wounds because the prime suspect's lawyer hires her, and she's plunged up to her newly pierced nose in even more trouble.

As Emma snoops around a far dicier metropolis than Tony Bennett celebrated, one teeming with self-styled biker dykes and histrionic drama queens, her investigations threaten to expose some of the city's most powerful. If she lives that long. Author Wings, a San Francisco resident, knows the territory intimately—as well as how to spin a snappy tale with more twists than Lombard Street. (Berkley, $21.95)

>Soheir Khashoggi

BANNED IN HER HOMELAND, SUPPORTED IN HER HOME

MIRAGE, A FIRST NOVEL BY BILLIONAIRE Adnan Khashoggi's baby sister, Soheir, has been banned in Saudi Arabia—and no wonder. There are plenty of foul doings in the repressive, mythical Middle Eastern country al-Remal. Amira, the wellborn heroine, watches her best friend get stoned to death for adultery. ("They don't do that any more," Khashoggi says.) Amira is married off to a prince whose idea of fun is wife abuse. "And I mentioned that the prince is homosexual, which they didn't like in Saudi Arabia," says Soheir, 49, adding that while Adnan and her two other older brothers are proud of the book, they too had trouble with her characterization of royalty. "They wanted to know why I didn't make him a sheik (the family patriarch) instead of a prince," she says."I didn't say anything against my country. I just wanted women in other parts of the world to know my culture."

The Saudi Arabian-born Khashoggi, whose late father, Mohammed, was Saudi King Abdul Aziz's private doctor, grew up primarily in Egypt with her mother and five elder siblings because there were no schools for girls in her native land. On visits to her father she wore veils, as do all Saudi women, and was not allowed to drive. ("That was the only thing I was unhappy about," she says.) When she was 4, she says, "my father took another wife—you can have up to four—which made my mother very sad."

Divorced since 1989 from a Lebanese businessman ("My marriage was nothing like the one in the book," she says), Khashoggi, who is also an artist, lives in a spacious colonial house in Greenwich, Conn. She is giving her four daughters (ages 10 to 23) a more liberal upbringing than her own. "I wasn't allowed to go on dates," she says. "And I had to stay in my room when my brothers had male friends over."

Khashoggi is at work on a new novel set in Egypt. It may not be a hit on Arab shores, but she knows her most important Western critics will approve. "My two older girls read Mirage, " she says, "and they loved it."

  • Contributors:
  • Thomas Curwen,
  • Alex Tresniowski,
  • Steve Dougherty,
  • Clare McHugh,
  • Pam Lambert,
  • Joanne Kaufman.