by Jacquelyn Mitchard

Where is Ben Cappadora? One minute the toddler is sitting on a luggage trolley in the Tremont Hotel holding his older brother Vincent's hand, the next he's gone, turning his mother's 15th high school reunion into the worst nightmare of her life. In her fiction debut, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Jacquelyn Mitchard delivers a drama that has the tension of a thriller but moves more deeply into the emotional territory of family ties.

As the search for the missing child builds and wanes, the author dissects his parents' intense feelings as well as those of his brother Vincent, who becomes a troubled teen haunted by his role in the disappearance. While Mitchard makes the family anguish palpable, the horror is hardly unrelieved—the book follows the Cappadoras for nearly a decade; and there's an eye-popping twist that, though it doesn't answer every prayer, ends the agony of uncertainty about Ben's fate. (Viking, $23.95)

by Calvin Trillin

Sick of tell-all memoirs about dysfunctional families and deadbeat dads? Try humorist Trillin's Hallmark card to his pop, Abe, a hardworking Jewish immigrant from Ukraine who founded a chain of five neighborhood grocery stores in Kansas City, Mo., after the Depression. The closest thing to parental abuse this slim book exposes is the elder Trillin's insistence that his son join the Boy Scouts, against the child's will, because that's what true American boys do.

The guiding principle of young Trillin's upbringing was: "We have worked hard so that you can have the opportunity to be a real American." As a boy, Abe Trillin had read the heroic novel Stover at Yale, and as a grownup, he used it to guide his son's higher education. Calvin not only graduated from that citadel of WASP respectability but edited the Yale Daily News and belonged to one of Old Blue's prestigious senior societies. Abe, who worked hard all his life so that his son would never have to, died in 1967 at 60.

Trillin evinces the love he felt for the man who sacrificed to give him so many opportunities. Even so, Messages feels somewhat two-dimensional—its humor often corny or predictable. Outside of a Norman Rockwell painting, family life has never been this strife-free. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18)

by Walter Mosley

Easy Rawlins is in a jam. Embarking on his fifth adventure, the popular black sleuth finds himself up against an adversary more insidious than the usual suspects. This time trouble strikes from a surprising source—the much-praised author himself, who loses his mystery in all the noir mist.

The tale gets off to a tantalizing start as Easy succumbs to the charms of Idabell Turner, a teacher at the Watts junior high school where he's working by day as head custodian. But he quickly pays for his moments of passion: The lady vanishes, leaving Easy with her snappish little mutt, Pharaoh; he finds a snazzily dressed corpse in the school's garden; and police suspect him of murdering her husband—and/or hubby's twin brother.

From there, Easy's—and the reader's—headaches multiply. Without mug shots you're not likely to keep straight the dizzying parade of thugs, both with and without badges, gunning for him and sidekick Mouse.

As Mosley fans have come to expect, the vibrant black community is vividly evoked, and his reluctant hero is as ingratiating as ever. If you're in the market for an enjoyable yarn that happens to have a high body count, Dog won't disappoint you. But if it's suspense you crave, you'll be barking up the wrong tree. (Norton, $23)

by Christopher Andersen

Read again about how Jack fumed over Jackie's spending! Relive Jackie's triumphant visit to Paris! Eavesdrop as the couple squabbles over press photographers' access to their children (Jack wants more, Jackie less).

Though Andersen, who has written unauthorized biographies of Madonna, Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger, among others, dutifully talked to many of the couple's friends, relatives and employees, most had nothing fresh to say. He does dig up a brief, heretofore unreported affair between the young Senator and Audrey Hepburn in the early days of his romance with Jackie. With her exquisite looks and intelligent conversation, says one acquaintance, Hepburn "out-Jackied Jackie." Of course, Kennedy's White House ambitions precluded marriage to the Brussels-born, non-Catholic movie star.

Andersen's account picks up some speed during the White House years, and so, he writes, did his subjects—who both received regular injections of an amphetamine "cocktail" from Dr. Max Jacobson, aka the notorious Dr. Feelgood. The narrative slows when he repeats the list of women JFK supposedly bedded during his Administration.

It is the author's belief that Jack and Jackie had a deep affection for each other, and that beneath all the trappings of wealth and power, they too faced many of the same life problems—miscarriages, caring for aging parents—that ordinary Americans confront. That's a hard sell to readers wading through page after page of philandering, drug use and megabuck shopping sprees. But then comes the devastating death, touchingly told, of the couple's third child, Patrick, on Aug. 9, 1963. And in this instance, at least, the Kennedys bore their grief privately, with dignity and pretty much like any other couple. (Morrow, $24)

Selected and introduced by Anne Tyler

Baltimore-based novelist Anne Tyler, who grew up in Raleigh, N.C., chose these fiction pieces from a decade's worth collected in the New Stories from the South annual anthology. The 20 tales here epitomize the qualities readers treasure in the best southern literature: a rich appreciation of language and humor, as well as a dead-on sense of place and character.

Mary Hood's "After Moore" offers an indomitable Rhonda and her fractious marriage to Moore, a low-rent Ted Turner wannabe. As a mother she prepares for tornadoes by writing the names of her children on their legs with Magic Markers. As a wife she takes up stock-car racing after learning she's No. 78 on her husband's three-figure list of conquests. Her car number? You guessed it.

James Lee Burke's "Water People" is awash with images of the hard life on a drilling barge moored in a flat Louisiana bay "like a big rectangle of gray iron welded onto a cookie sheet." Barry Hannah takes us to a hunting lodge in Arkansas, where a desperate father playing chess wins his way out of debt when his personality is mysteriously transformed into that of a wily and sophisticated 18th-century woman. If the chilly alienation of much modern fiction gives you a migraine, take two stories from Best of the South and call a friend to tout them to in the morning. (Algonquin, $15.95)

by Ruth Rendell

Beach Book of the Week

EVEN THE SULTRIEST SUMMER DAY IS guaranteed to turn dank and chilly once you step inside this sinister collection from Britain's reigning queen of psychological suspense. (She was recently named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.) Though the 11 tales here share certain themes—among them the homicidal impulses lurking in some of the most respectable families—their diversity is remarkable.

"Unacceptable Levels" is a playful riff about a woman more concerned about her lover's insurance policy than his person. "Burning End" presents a moving portrait of geriatric decline, criminality and regret. And the best of the batch, the novella-length "The Strawberry Tree," is a multilayered reflection by a rich Englishwoman on a fateful summer 40 years earlier when her brother and cousin disappeared.

For all the stories' differences, however, Rendell's hand remains rocksteady throughout. Her mastery finds expression in her crisp prose, abundant plot twists and, most of all, in her unblinking insight into the darkest recesses of the human psyche. (Crown, $23)

>Jeff Foxworthy

BOOK: NO SHIRT, HO SHOES...NO PROBLEM!

PLACE: Barnes & Noble, NYC BOOKS SIGNED: 80 in one hour

A RITZY BOOKSTORE ON NEW YORK CITY'S Fifth Avenue may not be the natural habitat of a self-described redneck, but there was Jeff Foxworthy, 37, heralded over the loudspeaker as "America's favorite southern-fried comedian," posing for pictures, hugging his fans, even autographing Holly Hughes's arm cast ("I was at track practice and fell over a hurdle," said Hughes, 15. "He's the most famous person to sign it.") Folks from all over—a Virginia accountant, a couple from Texas and a cop from Queens, N.Y.—greeted the eight-time author (his latest book is a bestseller) more like a next-door neighbor than the star of his own NBC sitcom, The Jeff Foxworthy Show. "Nobody ever comes up and says, 'Excuse me, Mr. Foxworthy' " says the affable Georgian. "They come up and slap me on the back and say, 'Hey, Jeff, let me tell you what my wife did last night.' "

Known for his "You might be a redneck if..." routine, Foxworthy has spent time in New York City before—when he was an unknown, nearly starving standup comic. "I never had any money so I lived on slices of pizza and hot dogs," he says. "Now it's hard for me to pass a hot-dog guy on the' street and not get one." Does that mean you can be rich and a redneck? "Oh yeah, 'cause it's an attitude," says Foxworthy. "I mean, think about it. Who had more money than Elvis?"

  • Contributors:
  • Louisa Ermelino,
  • Mark Bautz,
  • Pam Lambert,
  • Clare McHugh,
  • Mark Lasswell,
  • Alex Tresniowski.