The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers: Hardcover Fiction

1. PRETEND YOU DON'T SEE HER, by Mary Higgins Clark, Simon & Schuster, $25

A murder mystery without sexually explicit scenes and dialogue that is not limited to four-letter words highlight this excellent new book. A host of characters living in Manhattan and Minneapolis are linked by a talented young actress who is killed (or some say murdered) in a wintry car wreck. The chapters become shorter as the book's tempo increases. Tense to the end, this is a page-turner's page-turner. By Janet Moller

2. THE PARTNER, by John Grisham, Doubleday, $26.95

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

John Grisham's latest involves a young law partner who fakes his death in a car crash, then absconds with $90 million from his firm. This thriller-cum-morality-tale has the hard edge of a Raymond Chandler; the brilliant legal maneuvering of an Erle Stanley Gardner; the surprise ending of an O. Henry or an Agatha Christie. People pay for their deeds, and friendship counts for something. Fans and new readers won't be disappointed. By Lawrence J. Goodrich

3. MASON & DIXON, by Thomas Pynchon, Henry Holt and Company, $30

This is a "big ideas" book. Enlightenment rationalism impaled on "Catch-22" absurdities. Pynchon mimics the form of 18th-century novels la Tristram Shandy. His convoluted imaginings squirm around a fictional account of Charles Mason (1728-86) and Jeremiah Dixon (1733-79), British surveyors sent to map the boundary line between Pennsylvania and Maryland in 1763. Tedious and solipsistic, maybe English lit. majors will plow through its 773 pages. By Jim Bencivenga

4. THE RANCH, by Danielle Steel, Delacorte, $25.95

The latest novel from the prolific romance author (this is her 39th bestseller) has a nice premise, but fails to deliver her trademark flowing narrative. The idea of former college roommates healing old hurts, aiding one another, and looking for love while on vacation holds promise for interest and dialogue. But this time Steel's writing is static and the plot entirely predictable. Readers should also be prepared for much talk of illness and death. By Terri Theiss

5. THE NIGHT CREW, by John Sandford, Putnam, $23.95

Two deaths. A trail of clues. Unexplained coincidences occuring in Los Angeles. John Sandford debuts his new heroine, Anna Batory, a video freelancer who works the night shift, amid a crowd of suspects. One of them is an obsessed serial killer. Anna's tenacity turns the pages. Although "Night Crew" does not match up to the thrillers of his "Prey" series, Sandford's eye for detail and characterization has enough steam for spring reading. By Suman Bandrapalli

6. 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

7. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE SON: A NOVEL, by Norman Mailer, Random House, $21

Norman Mailer has never shied away from tackling large subjects. This time, perhaps he should have. In "The Gospel According to the Son," he takes on the story of Jesus' life and tells it in the first person. The result is a choppy and unexciting telling of a tale we already know well. He uses pseudo-Biblical language that makes the story and the character of Jesus seem stilted. Mailer's portrayal of Jesus' doubts and fears are rarely convincing. By Nicole Gaouette

8. 3001: The Final ODYSSEY, by Arthur C. Clarke, Del Rey, $25

Arthur Clarke, astronomer and physicist as well as science fiction grandmaster, concludes one of the landmarks of science fiction literature with his third sequel to "2001: A Space Odyssey." The series continues 1,000 years later with the reappearance of 2001 astronaut Frank Poole. Clarke's tale is less a final chapter than a futuristic vision of society - including education, entertainment, and theology in the 4th millennium. By Leigh Montgomery

9. MCNALLY'S GAMBLE, by Lawrence Sanders, Putnam, $24.95

Archy McNally never made it to law school, but adores the life to which a Palm Beach lawyer is accustomed. His father - a successful lawyer - pays him to make "discreet inquiries" for his firm. Archy tells about his latest assignment - protecting one of his father's wealthy widowers from investing in a fictitious Faberg egg - in a very chatty first-person. He shares his feelings about fancy foods, dapper duds, and just about everything else on his mind. By Faye Bowers

10. CHROMOSOME 6, by Robin Cook, Putnam, $24.95

Again we find the New York Medical Examiners team of Laurie Montgomery and Jack Stapleton in trouble with the N.Y. Mob. Only this time the inquisitive examiners have themselves flying to a remote African jungle to solve the puzzle. The plot is a conglomerate of other bestsellers: "Jurassic Park" and "Almost Adam." It's too bad Cook can't apply his easy-read style to an original plot of his own. By Janet Moller

11. SMALL VICES, by Robert B. Parker, Putnam, $21.95

Parker's 24th novel featuring PI Spenser has the Boston-based detective investigating the murder of a co-ed by a suspect with a long criminal history. Spenser thinks the alleged perpetrator may be being framed, especially when influential people are not pleased with Spenser on the case. The unthinkable occurs: Spenser is hit by an assassin's bullet. Parker's trademark use of dialogue permeates the narrative making this book difficult to put down. By Leigh Montgomery

12. AMERICAN PASTORAL, by Philip Roth, Houghton Mifflin, $26

At his 45th reunion, narrator Nathan Zuckerman learns high school hero and WWII veteran Seymour "Swede" Levov has just died. He had followed the straight-and-narrow and prospered. His stuttering (but otherwise perfect) daughter, Meredith, protested the Vietnam War and planted bombs. Zuckerman assembles facts and imagines conversations of Swede's history. Engagingly ironic but overanalyzed look at what can go wrong for a man who tries to do things right. By Joanna Angelides

13. OUT TO CANAAN, by Jan Karon, Viking, $23.95

"Out to Canaan" is one of a series about life in Mitford, a small town in North Carolina where everybody knows everybody else and a tea is front-page news in the local paper, The Mitford Muse. Though outsiders have said the only thing to do in Mitford is watch the paint dry, that's not entirely true. The preacher, his wife, and the rest of the townsfolk face some real-life problems. Reading about them, however, is a bit like watching the paint dry. By Suzanne MacLachlan

14. EVENING CLASS, by Maeve Binchy, Delacorte, $24.95

Irish writer Maeve Binchy's latest book is peopled with her usual engaging characters. A bit lighter than some of her previous novels, including "Circle of Friends" and "The Glass Lake," it tells the story of a group of Dubliners who are all linked by a night class in Italian, and, they discover, in other ways as well. Keeping the various students, teachers, relatives, and lovers in order can be a task at times, but Binchy delivers a good read just the same. By Kim Campbell

15. SNOW IN AUGUST, by Peter Hamill, Little, Brown and Company, $23.95

This wannabe of a "Tree Grows in Brooklyn" for guys strains credulity. It is a coming-of-age story for a young Irish-American boy confronting the twin evils of racism and anti-Semitism in 1947. Michael's father died at the Battle of the Bulge. His mother could have been a nun. Clichs, albeit warm, wholesome ones about family, race, and creed, predominate. Hamill grew up in Brooklyn. The Dodgers and Jackie Robinson are a symbol of America overcoming anything. By Jim Bencivenga

Monitor's Pick

THE JADE PEONY

By Wayson Choy Picador 238 pp., $22

A winner of Canada's Trillium Award, Wayson Choy's first novel, "The Jade Peony," offers a poignant, intimate look at a Chinese immigrant family in Vancouver in the decade leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Insightful, wise, and touching, "The Jade Peony" is one of the many fascinating accounts - fictional and nonfictional - that have been appearing about the lives of Asian-American immigrants. It is also one of the best-written and most imaginatively conceived of these accounts.

Divided into three sections, the story is told from the distinctive viewpoints of three of the family's four children: only sister Jook-Liang, second brother Jung-Sum, and youngest brother Sek-Lung.

Sek-Lung's story provides the broadest picture of the era as a whole. This was a time when immigrants from China and Japan were essentially barred from citizenship, and even their children born in Canada were considered resident aliens.

It was also a time of great anxiety for the Chinese expatriates hearing constant reports of the Japanese invasion of their homeland.

Little "Sekky," as he's called, finds a sense of stability in the strictly run classroom of his teacher, Miss Doyle, who makes sure that all of her immigrant pupils - Chinese, Italian, Polish-Jewish, even the suspiciously regarded Japanese - learn to speak the King's English.

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