The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers: Hardcover Fiction

1. HORNET'S NEST, by Patricia Cornwell, Putnam, $25.95

A bisexual, psychopathic killer is sexually abusing then murdering businessmen in downtown Charlotte, N.C. He lives in a van and drives around all day and night with a prostitute who is a version of a Charles Manson groupie. No one on the police force can figure it out. No one in Charlotte can figure it out. A young police-reporter stumbles into the murderer. Nitty gritty police work, especially by women officers, is the focus of this B-rated movie script. By Jim Bencivenga

2. TOTAL CONTROL, by David Baldacci, Warner, $25

This thriller combines blackmail and murder with high finance and hi-technology to manipulate the federal reserve and control the Internet. Fast-paced and engaging, particularly when explaining the business practices and computers used in the skulduggery. But while David Baldacci asks intriguing questions about money and information, his concluding chapters unfortunately slip too close to predictability. Readers should be prepared for some violent kill scenes. By Terry Theiss

3.SOLE SURVIVOR, by Dean Koontz, Knopf, $2

If only thriller writers would stick to writing thrillers. Unfortunately, Dean Koontz wanders off into new age fog about the after-life, ruining an otherwise gripping tale about an ex-reporter who loses his wife and two children in a plane crash. He discovers that there might have been a government plot behind the plane's destruction. It centers around a woman named Rose, who claims to be the sole survivor of the fatal flight. There is much violence and profanity. By Tom Regan

4.SILENT WITNESS, by Richard North Patterson, Knopf, $25.95

A call from a friend he hasn't seen in almost 30 years resurrects attorney Tony Lord's past - the murder of his high school girlfriend and the hostility of the small town that was convinced of his guilt, though he was never tried. When his closest friend, Sam Robb, stands charged of an eerily similar crime, Tony returns to defend him and face the ghosts of another time. A gripping story with skillfully drawn characters. Unfortunately, the ending is a little weak. By Nicole Gaouette

5. 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 with a message: Re-regulate the air industry. By Faye Bowers

6. SMALL TOWN GIRL, by LaVyrle Spencer, Putnam, $23.95

In this modern-day romance, the town's most famous native is dragged home to care for ailing Mama and is surprised by love with the now grown-up boy next door who has a grown daughter. The heroine is clearly patterned after country superstar Reba McEntire, but that is deliberate and does not take anything away from a warm, insightful, and deliciously funny book. Two short sensual scenes do not detract from the quality of a well-told story. By Terry Theiss

7. 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. A 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, she tells seven-year-old Vincent to look after three-year-old Ben. Ben disappears. A detailed and realistic portrait of one family's crisis. By Merle Rubin

8. The CAT WHO TAILED A THIEF, by Lilian Jackson Braun, Putnam, $22.95

Even Koko, that intrepid Siamese cat, can't save this tepid mystery, the latest installment in Braun's hugely popular "The Cat Who..." series. Moose County is stunned when a local banker is murdered on a trip to the big city. Newspaperman James Qwilleran and his prescient cat solve the mystery - but alas, not in time to save a pillar of the community. Readers can tell whodunit just by reading the book jacket, thereby saving themselves the price of the book. By Yvonne Zipp

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. VENDETTA: Lucky's Revenge, by Jackie Collins, HarperCollins, $25

This latest work from the Hollywood-culture author is thin on plot and heavy on filth. Readers might want revenge themselves after wasting several hours slogging through gutter language and graphic sexual scenes in search of some storyline. This is the latest in a series about a mob princess turned film-studio head. Not recommended reading for anyone with a functioning intellect or reading standards. By Terry Theiss

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

In this whodunit, 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 predictable plot is engaging. The book's first line sets the tone: "Few murder streets are lovely. This one was." Contains graphic sex scenes. By Suman Bandrapalli

12. 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 her earlier works. 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

13. DRAGONSEYE, by Anne McCaffrey, Del Rey, $24

Anne McCaffrey continues her tales of the inhabitants of the Planet Pern, a civilization that left Earth many eons ago. The book details a post-technological society. People were once computer literate but have abandoned this outdated, long-forgotten medium, and have reverted to medieval means - writing longhand. There are dragons too, bred to combat evil toxic silver strands, called Thread, that fell from the sky long ago and threaten to reappear. By Leigh Montgomery

14. LE DIVORCE, by Diane Johnson, Dutton, $23.95

When a free-spirited film-school dropout from Santa Barbara, Calif., visits Paris to help her stepsister, who is pregnant and newly abandoned by her philandering husband, cultural and social values clash in funny, touching ways. A strangely madcap and violent ending strains credulity, but even this detracts only slightly from the pleasure of a warm, deftly observed tale of morals and manners. By Marilyn Gardner

15. 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 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

MONITOR'S PICK

THE FALLEN MAN

By Tony Hillerman

HarperCollins

234pp., $24

Tony Hillerman is a master of style. He probes the metaphysical implications of crime, religious taboo, and moral weakness in human nature. His point of view is always compassionate. He taps an innate hunger for justice and harmony.

"The Fallen Man," is the 12th novel in his highly acclaimed Leaphorn-Chee Navajo detective series.

Time and memory weigh heavily on the minds of the characters. Skeletal remains of a mountain climber are found high-up on a ledge on Shiprock mountain. The New Mexico landmark is one of the tribe's most sacred places.

No Navajo would desecrate the mountain by climbing it, so whose bones are they? How did they get there? Are they all that's left of an act of trespass? A climbing accident? An act of abandonment and a lonely death? Murder? Suicide?

The bones turn out to be those of an heir to a Colorado ranching and mining empire. He has been missing for 11 years.

Joe Leaphorn, now retired from the Navajo tribal police, never solved the case. The soft spoken "legend in his own time" detective seizes the chance to learn what he couldn't more than a decade earlier. His search crosses paths with his former sidekick and successor, Jim Chee.

As in his other novels, Hillerman explores misunderstanding and conflict inherent in cross-cultural mores. This more than anything else sets him apart from mystery writers of his generation.

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