Elmore Leonard has long had an irresistible formula for his grit-and-polish crime novels: flawed heroes, strong women, rich or powerful people who abuse their privilege, reasonably clever mob bosses, and not-so-swift crooks - all entangled in stories that are set (at least in part) in Detroit or South Florida, and that undergo plot twists that are surprising yet plausible.
If Robert Ludlum ever had a notion to write something like "When Harry Met Sally," he might end up with something like "Just Friends," the novel by Londoner Robyn Sisman. Like so many of Ludlum's books, "Just Friends" is far more a pleasure to read than to complete.
When pieces of Dean Cranston Fessing are discovered in a dumpster behind the gender-studies center at Wainscott University, having been roasted, sauteed, or baked in one delicate sauce or another, it is the best thing that ever happened to Norman de Ratour, mild-mannered recording secretary at the Museum of Man.
Dean Fessing, you see, was laying the groundwork to have the university swallow the museum, threatening not only to end the museum's sacred mission but also to downsize de Ratour out of the job he has held for more than 30 years.
You can't tell a book by its cover, but author and title can reveal a lot. For example, who thought, when they heard that Eric Bogosian had written a book called "Mall," that it would be a celebration of American happiness, or a gift guide perhaps?
Of course not. Anyone familiar with "Talk Radio," or "Suburbia," or his latest version of "Wake Up and Smell the Coffee" would have expected a rant, and one more temple of mindless consumerism is just the sort of place where Bogosian would shop for literary material.
Think of "Eat Fat," Richard Klein's screed about what's wrong with fat in America, as a deceiving devil's food cake. The first glance is enticing, but a few bites reveal an unpalatable concoction whose good ingredients have been compromised by the unhealthy ones.
Eric Burdon is just the sort of chap you'd want to write a memoir of the rock 'n' roll life. As lead singer of the Animals, he was a key soldier in the British invasion of the '60s, he was present at several key junctures in pop history, and he somehow remembers them despite a 40-year binge on drugs and alcohol.
Here's another reason: He's alive. It's absurdly obvious, but it stands out in increasing relief as Burdon ticks off story after story of famous pals who didn't survive: Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, and Steve McQueen.
Iran in the '70s was a nation populated by Muslims but led by a secularist whose power derived, in part, from state repression and US backing. When fundamentalists led by a charismatic cleric overthrew the shah, the US government lost an important friend and gained a committed enemy overnight.
Readers of Newtonian Laura Zigman's second novel, "Dating Big Bird," have had reason to anticipate her third, "Her." Well, the wait has ended, and so should the anticipation.
Michael Palin has found success in many places: He made his name almost three decades ago as a founding member of the Monty Python comedy troupe, and he arguably has gone farther in the aftermath than any of his mates.
This is the literal truth, considering his public-TV travelogues that have taken him "From Pole to Pole" and "Around the World in Eighty Days." But he was terribly amusing also as the stuttering fool in "A Fish Called Wanda."
Isaac Asimov once said that writing a mystery is simple: Devise a situation that can be explained in more than one way, build a case for one of those ways, and at the end, reveal the "truth" to be different.
Simple, perhaps, but not easy, because each scenario, especially the feint, has to be believable, or there's no sale. Therein lies the difficulty in Boston writer Dennis Lehane's fourth novel. Lehane is clever with words and can paint a good scene, but too often in "Gone, Baby, Gone," the reader is left with the sense that it wouldn't have gone that way.