Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Early Word: Lehane, Francis, Le Carre, McCarthy, Frazier

It’s beginning to look a lot like crowed aisles in the bookstores this holiday season. With an unusually sizeable number of big-name books in the publishing pipeline potentially drawing in ever-more book buyers, it's almost a matter of a good thing gone awry.

According to Michael Cader, founder of Publishers Lunch, a book industry website, “There’s a legitimate question whether this is too much at once, whether the market can handle it. There are just so many of them.”

That’s where I come in. Over the course of the foreseeable future of ever-dwindling shopping days ‘til Christmas, I’ll be offering -- weekly if not more frequently -- a selective assortment of suggestions in fiction and non, from scratch ‘n’ sniff children’s books to “Outhouses of the World" coffee table tomes, to scratch 'n' sniff “Outhouses of the World” publications too, perhaps.

In any case, we have some catching up to do. Before we get to Grisham and Pynchon; Atwood and Allende; Crichton, King and Koontz; we should take note of some titles that have hit the bookstore shelves in the past few weeks.

In a change of pace for the always gripping Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), Coronado offers five stories and the titular centerpiece, a two-act play based on Lehane’s short story "Until Gwen." Take a hustler father, a son just out of prison, mix in an uneasy reunion and some missing loot and you have the makings of some volatile intensity. Indeed, as the lead-off story would have it, "a small town is a hard place to keep a secret."

After an absence of six years, Dick Francis, in Under Orders, is not only back with another racetrack caper, he’s bringing back popular series character Sid Halley, once a champion jockey, and now a gumshoe out to solve the murder of jockey - in a case that gets a little too up close and personal.

John Le Carre keeps going strong, too, bringing a lighter, comic touch in The Mission Song, a story of an idealistic and earnest British interpreter, Bruno "Salvo" Salvador, whose expertise brings him steady work that soon enough spirals into covert government assignments and no lack of hot water and trouble.

The Road is a departure for Cormac McCarthy (All the Pretty Horses), but is nonetheless a masterwork of a vividly harrowing post-apocalyptic epic, rendered in multi-layered and majestically evocative prose. A father and son, survivors of an end-times holocaust, plod on aimlessly through the ashen wasteland, beset by the elements, marauders and “Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.”

If that isn’t dark enough for you, you might relish the fantastical escapism courtesy of the short story collection, Strange Candy by Laurell K. Hamilton, author of the black-humored Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novels. Something similarly wicked this way comes with the territory surrounding the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, where Christine Feehan’s Dark Celebration: A Carpathian Reunion takes place. The 17th in Feehan's Dark series (and the first in hardcover) features the blood-drinking and shape-shifting Carpathian clan as they gather for what many may not consider the most traditional of Christmas celebrations.

Also in stores: from the author of Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven, comes Mitch Albom’s eagerly-awaited For One More Day. That particular hoped-for day in the novel is one of solace and peace for an anguished son distraught by and guilt-ridden over the death of his mother.

And finally, in a brief early word about an even more highly anticipated work (available Oct. 3) Charles Frazier brings us, a decade after the award-winning Cold Mountain, Thirteen Moons. Epic in scale, the novel starts before the Civil War this time, following the life of the narrator from the time he is sent to run a trading post in the wilderness of Indian territory.

Next up in The Early Word: the stacked-up blockbusters you’ll be tripping over in the bookstores.

After that: select titles on the shelves behind the stacks of blockbusters you’ll tripping over in the bookstores.

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