Books

updated 10/31/2005 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/31/2005 01:00AM

NOVEL

Saving Fish From Drowning
By Amy Tan

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Narrator Bibi Chen, a San Francisco art maven, books a tour of the old Burma Road trade route for a dozen friends and then dies, suspiciously, on the eve of their departure. She tags along in spirit, but without Bibi directing them, the Americans behave badly—peeing on a sacred shrine (mistaken for a urinal) in China and contracting gut-wrenching dysentery by eating at "authentic" places. Have they picked up bad karma too? On Christmas morning they are kidnapped by a kindly group of tribal farmers who mistake the party's lone teenager for their long-awaited messiah. The two groups come across as dumb and dumber: The tourists never realize they've been abducted; the farmers have figured out how to get satellite TV but mistake the teen's card tricks for godlike powers. The large cast includes some indistinct characters, but a raging bacteriophobe and the hot-to-trot host of a TV dog show are vividly drawn. Tan slows the narrative with historical and political detours, but readers will forgive her because their tour guide, Bibi, is wonderfully irrepressible—even when dead.

PopCo
By Scarlett Thomas

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Raised by mathematician and cryptanalyst grandparents, Alice Butler has a knack for solving puzzles, which lands her a plum job designing spy kits at a secretive toy empire called PopCo. Her big assignment is to create a product that will captivate teenage girls; along the way, she must also unravel the mysteries behind a locket she's had since childhood. Alice's love life is a bit of a maze, as well: New boyfriend Ben is hard to parse. Peppered with curious clues and mysterious diaries, PopCo, by the British-born author of the 2001 mystery Bright Young Things, cleverly combines revelations about Alice's past with a jaundiced look at the culture that created the manipulative toy empire.

THRILLER

The Great Stink
By Clare Clarke

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Overcoming a huge ick factor, Clare Clark writes a captivating historical thriller set in Victorian London's rank, overflowing sewers. The lives of William May, a troubled sewer surveyor, and Long Arm Tom, an illiterate scavenger who sells rats for bar fights, collide when Parliament approves a huge sewer renovation. Tom, who knows that loiterers will be locked out of the new tunnels, pins his hopes on the love of his life, Lady, a mongrel who's an excellent ratter. Clark keeps the suspense high as greed turns into murder in this tale of Dickensian London.

The Lincoln Lawyer
By Michael Connelly
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Mystery writer Connelly changes venues and produces an intricately plotted courthouse thriller in The Lincoln Lawyer. Mickey Haller admits to being a "sleazy defense lawyer with two ex-wives," a daughter he neglects and a roster of low-life clients. He's got financial burdens in the form of a killer mortgage, alimony and child support payments. When an L.A. bail bondsman says he has a "franchise" client for him—one whose deep pockets can pay top fees—Haller's first question is not about whether Louis Roulet is guilty of trying to murder a prostitute but why a white-shoe guy would call him. The answer lies in Roulet's link to another case Haller handled, the very one that haunts the attorney's sleep because he might have wrongly persuaded a man to plead guilty. After a lifetime dealing with criminals—even the guy who chauffeurs Mickey around in his Lincoln Town Car is a former client working off his legal bills—Haller fears he's incapable of recognizing a man whose past is unstained. The tricks of Haller's trade will fascinate readers new to the genre, and the sophisticated storytelling will dazzle even judicial-thriller junkies as Haller finds himself trying to fulfill his duty to Roulet—and to save his own weathered hide.

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