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Dave Wood's Book Report, Oct. 28 2009

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Here's a trio of criminal treats for readers who enjoy out of the ordinary crime books.

"Hot Pursuit," By Suzanne Brockmann (Ballantine Books, $26) turns the tables as Brockmann's longtime heroine Alyssa Locke finds herself on a new assignment.

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In previous outings, Locke is the leader of a personal security company Troubleshooters, Inc., which specializes in guarding other people's lives. In "Hot Pursuit," Locke is the victim. Her longtime adversary is a serial killer called The Dentist and in this book he's out to get Locke.

Canadian Linwood Barclay admits in an afterword that his daughter Paige was the inspiration for his latest book, "Fear the Worst" (Bantam, $24):

"Finally, none of this would mean anything without Neetha, Spencer, and Paige, who deserves special thanks. Eating the eggs I'd made her one morning, she said, 'Suppose you came to pick me up at my job, and found out I'd never work there?"

That's exactly what happened to Barclay's character Tim Blake, just an average guy, a car salesman whose daughter Sydney doesn't come home from her summer job at a hotel. Once Blake is at the hotel, the management tells him that no one there has ever heard of her. In such a situation wouldn't you fear the worst?

Meet Robert Rivers in "Criminal Karma," by Steven M. Thomas (Ballantine Books, $25). Rivers isn't your average crime novel hero. He's a criminal himself and he returns to Thomas's pages as petty mobster with his eyes set on a lifting a valuable diamond necklace owned by California socialite Evelyn Evermore.

Unfortunately Rivers' partner in crime, Reggie messes things up for a time before Rivers discovers that he has first, fallen for Evermore and second, has stiff competition for the necklace from one spiritual guru with the unlikely name of Baba Raba.

On to more serious pursuits. One doesn't run across the name Glenway Wescott much these days. What a shame. Years back, Wescott left his home in tiny Kewaskum,Wis., and attended the University of Chicago on a scholarship at age 16.

And then he set out with his longtime partner Monroe Wheeler for Paris, where he joined other expatriates there, guys like Midwesterners Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald as well as continental writers like Somerset Maugham, Jean Cocteau and E.M. Forster.

He was one of them and the toast of avant garde critics around the world after publishing "The Apple of the Eye" (1924), "The Grandmothers," and "Goodbye, Wisconsin" in 1928, which won the Harper Prize for Fiction. The latter book has just been reissued by Borderland Books ( $28) in Madison.

Wescott eventually moved back to the states, ending up in New York City, where he wrote "The Pilgrim Hawk" and "Apartment in Athens." He served as president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He died in 1987.

The reissue of "Goodbye, Wisconsin" is long overdue and enhanced by an introductory essay by Jerry Rosco. It marks the end of Wescott's books about his natal place and is chock full of short stories that are partially autobiographical and deal with Puritanism, and his own homosexuality. Although his later books dealt with international matters like World War II ("Apartment in Athens"), Rosco claims Wescott never forgot about his home state.

One critic said that no matter what highfalutin' circles Wescott traveled in when he needed a metaphor he always reached back to the Midwest and Kewaskum.

University of Wisconsin English professor Lorrie Moore is out with her first novel in years. It's "A Gate at the Stairs' (Alfred Knopf, $25.95). The new novel concerns Tassie, a small town Wisconsin kid (her father is a potato farmer) who takes off for the big University (probably Wisconsin), where she begins to cast off small town habits (she eats Chinese) and takes a job as a part-time nanny, where she becomes involved with her charges.

She's a very humorous, self-aware 20-year-old and her first person narrative keeps you reading.

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at (715) 426-9554.

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