The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers

Hardcover fiction

1. AIRFRAME, by Michael Crichton, Knopf, $26

Crichton couldn't have picked a better - or worse - time to write a thriller about an airline accident and how television covers it. An international flight has a few moments of terror 35,000 feet in the air over California. Three people die and several others are injured. An attractive, made-for-the-movies heroine figures out what happened. Coming on the heels of the ValuJet and TWA tragedies, it's a bit macabre. Another bestseller, this time with a clear message: re-regulate the air industry. By Faye Bowers

2. DRUMS OF AUTUMN, by Diana Gabaldon, Dell, $23.95

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

This 900-page work, fourth in a time-traveler series, reads like a good romance novel. From allusions to the previous works, this visit to pre-Revolutionary America appears to be quieter than those adventure-filled tomes. One only hopes that the writing is as wonderful in them as in this installment. Readers should, however, be prepared for some rough scenes, much sensuality, and extensive medical detail arising from a protaganist's profession. By Terry Theiss

3. THE CLINIC, by Jonathan Kellerman, Bantam, $24.95

In this who-done-it, Kellerman draws much of the drama from his former profession: psychologist. He is a tease throughout as he reveals who killed Hope Devane, author and teacher. Was it a student? A fertility specialist? A guest on a TV talk show? An underworld figure? As the caravan of suspects unravels, the plot is predictable at times, but always engaging. The book's first line sets the tone: "Few murder streets are lovely. This one was." Contains numerous and graphic sex scenes. By Suman Bandrapalli

4. THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN, by Jacquelyn Mitchard, Viking, $23.95

This is a straightforwardly written account of a bizarre misfortune that spawns countless complications. Beth Cappadora, mother of three, decides to take her children along with her for a short trip to her 15th high school reunion. Carrying her infant daughter as she registers at the front desk of a hotel filled with her former classmates, Beth tells seven-year-old Vincent to look after three-year-old Ben. Ben disappears. Mitchard's detailed and realistic portrait of the Cappadora family follows. By Merle Rubin

5. EXECUTIVE ORDERS, by Tom Clancy, Putnam, $27.95

What if a non-politician, cold-war warrior, average family man, and intelligence expert to boot became president? Clancy's latest and longest - 874 pp. - offers just such a scenario. Jack Ryan (however improbably) is in charge after almost the entire Congress and Cabinet are wiped out. An Iranian plot to create a single Islamic state, abetted by biological warfare and terrorism can't redeem frequent one-dimensional political tangents. Clancy has bitten off more than readers can chew. By Jim Bencivenga

6. THE LAWS OF OUR FATHERS, by Scott Turow, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.95

This book is a memoir disguised as a court room drama. Turow creates a world of inner-city drug gangs, the law-enforcement officers who arrest them, the lawyers who prosecute and defend them, and the judges who sentence them. The characters have flash-backs to the '60s and Turow makes the reader wonder if the world changed at all. By confessing all their sins and misdemeanors, they seek meaning in their lives. Violence, profanity, and sex are elements in the story. By Janet Moller

7. THE FALLEN MAN, by Tony Hillerman, HarperCollins, $24

This is the 12th detective mystery in the Jim Chee, Joe Leaphorn series. All the components of a Hillerman novel are here: the desert-dry locale, flawed human nature, the patterns of lives that at first randomly, and then pointedly, intersect in a tiny, but intense drama played out in the vastness and beauty of the American Southwest. Skeletal remains of a mountain climber are found highup on a ledge on a sacred Navajo mountain. Time and memory weigh heavily on everyone. By Jim Bencivenga

8. THE CHRISTMAS BOX, by Richard Paul Evans, Simon & Schuster, $12.95

A glorious weep! (A personal caveat: Sadness isn't really the pre-requisite to happiness.) A Victorian attic reveals an ornate box containing sorrowful letters to a lost, little angel. Night music, wafting mysteriously from the box, draws Richard to discover its secret. Once emptied of its sorrowful burden, the Christmas box epitomizes the empty tomb that could not hold Jesus. The joys of family love can conquer a materialistic sense of life and Christmas. Seasonal re-issue from last year. By Mari Murray

9. THE NOTEBOOK, by Nicholas Sparks, Warner, $16.95

"The Notebook" proves that good things come in small packages. It is all that "Love Story" wasn't. Sparks has a winning combination of style and story. It's a classic tale of love found, lost, and regained that maintains respect for the characters. Poetry and metaphoric description course through the book like the creek that runs alongside the couple's house. Prediction: It will be on this list for months, not weeks. By Janet Moller

10. BLOOD AND HONOR, by W.E.B. Griffin, Putnam, $24.95

The time is toward the end of World War II. The Nazis are planning for the possibility of defeat and a postwar Reich headquartered in Argentina while at the same time some in the German military are plotting against the Fhrer. Things in Argentina are complicated by a possible local coup. Griffin brings back his heroes from the popular World War II thriller "Honor Bound." Intriguing if wordy. OK if you're trapped on a cross-country flight. By Brad Knickerbocker

11. DESPERATION, by Stephen King, Viking, $27.95

When an oversized cop brutally arrests several travelers driving down a lonely highway in Nevada, they are forced to battle an evil that has wiped out the entire town of Desperation. They face killer creature-inhabited humans and wild desert animals that appeared after an infamous mine shaft was rediscovered. Though the graphic depiction and suspense live up to King's fame, the novel becomes a weak theological contest between the devil and God, who is presumed to be cruel and evil. By Debbie Hodges

12. SILENT HONOR, by Danielle Steel, Delacorte, $24.95

The latest from this mega-romance author is a cross-cultural tale of love during World War II. In presenting a young Japanese woman facing an internment camp in California after Pearl Harbor, it is more a tale of one woman facing prejudice and deprivation than a romance. As required in this genre, all ends well for our Japanese heroine. But what could have been a fascinating story with original insights is simply pleasant in a formulaic way. By Terri Theiss

13. ALIAS GRACE, by Margaret Atwood, Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, $24.95

Margaret Atwood has adapted - with great success - the story of a young Irish immigrant girl's conviction in 1843 of a double-murder in Canada. She uses it as a ready-made allegory. for her ongoing dialogue about the nature of women begun in works such as "The Handmaid's Tale," "Cat's Eye," and "The Robber Bride." Atwood's portrayal of Grace has a strength of character and insight that embraces feminism without becoming anachronistic. A fine work of literature and a compelling mystery. By Yvonne Zipp

14. THIS YEAR IT WILL BE DIFFERENT, by Maeve Binchy, Delacorte, $15.95

Roaring fires. Kisses under the mistletoe. Presents piled high by the tree. These are not to be found in Maeve Binchy's collection of short Christmas stories. Instead, there are cheating husbands, lonely widowers, and estranged children. Yet for each of the characters, Christmas becomes a turning point, and for each there is, if not a happy ending, at least a redemptive one. By Suzanne Maclachlan

15. THE THIRD TWIN, by Ken Follett, Crown, $25.95

The idea of diabolical genetic manipulation is not new to suspense, but Ken Follett has moved the idea from fantasy to possibility, and therein lies the appeal of this engaging thriller. Identical twins are born to different mothers at different times. Investigations uncover the "usual suspects": a racist US senator, an evil corporate entity, and a brilliant scientist gone bad. Follett's only mistake is an overemphasis on sexual violence, which taints an otherwise excellent book. By Tom Regan

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