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The Monitor Guide to The Bestsellers

By Staff / February 25, 1999


1. THE TESTAMENT, by John Grisham, Doubleday, $27.95 After Troy Phelan throws himself from the 14th floor, the heirs of the world's 10th-richest man circle over his estate like vultures. Only one problem - the will. All the money is left to an unknown figure. Washington lawyer Nate O'Riley, who's lost just about everything to alcohol, travels the rain forests of Brazil to unravel the mystery of the missing heir and the tangles of his own tormented, faithless life. Grisham takes us through every emotion and around the world, but the book gradually loses its power. (435 pp.) By Anne Toevs

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2. SOUTHERN CROSS, by Patricia Cornwell, Putnam, $25.95 "Southern Cross" boasts one consistent element - the characters are despicable. In the second book of her latest series, Cornwell sets police chief Judy Hammer and her two sidekicks down in crime-ridden Richmond, Va., to "clean house." One would guess it's intended as a portrait of Southern culture, urban decay, and a dysfunctional police force, but 200 pages in, the plot is still fogged. The big ideas are muffled by ridiculous and one-dimensional characters. Coarse language is used throughout. (359 pp.) By Kristina Lanier

3. A MAN IN FULL, by Tom Wolfe, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.50 Wolfe's panoramic study of Atlanta - from the ghettos to the corporate palaces - suggests the fundamental issue in America is the relationship between whites and blacks. Filled with memorable characters of Dickensian proportions, the story ingeniously brings the paths of divergent players together while wrestling with the challenges that modern life presents. Only a writer who can handle wit and cynicism as deftly as Wolfe could pull off such a daringly moral novel. (Full review 11/12/98) (742 pp.) By Ron Charles

4. THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, by Barbara Kingsolver, HarperCollins, $27.50 Kingsolver's story rotates through a series of haunting monologues by the wife and four daughters of a Baptist preacher who's determined to bring his version of salvation to the Congo in 1960. The Rev. Price fails to convert even one soul, but refuses to let his family leave. The daughters react in strikingly different ways, but Kingsolver's success at portraying them is uneven. Still, the strands of history and politics woven through will make for particularly good discussion. (Full review and interview 11/19/98) (546 pp.) By Ron Charles

5. IN DANGER'S PATH, by W.E.B. Griffin, Putnam, $24.95 In the eighth installment of his battle-happy "Corps" chronicle, Griffin intertwines the stories of US Marines and their commanders during World War II. With the Allies scrambling to dominate the Pacific, Brig. Gen. Fleming Pickering is singled out to lead reconnaissance missions in the Gobi Desert. As he implements air strikes against the Japanese, Pickering manipulates anyone in his way, including his own son. The writing tends to be prosaic - a boring paean to war. (549 pp.) By Elisabetta Coletti

6. SEIZE THE NIGHT, by Dean Koontz, Bantam, $26.95 Extremely sensitive to light because of an unusual genetic disorder, Christopher Snow has learned to live and thrive in a world of darkness. Armed with sharpened senses that compensate for his condition, the refreshingly insecure investigator leads the reader on a tense, first-person thrill ride in his search for a missing boy. With its tight, crisp descriptions of nocturnal nuances and deliciously dry dialogue, "Seize the Night" is gripping indeed. (384 pp.) By Carleton Cole

7. BE COOL, by Elmore Leonard, Delacorte Press, $24.95 Chili Palmer is back. Here, the loan shark turned film director of Leonard's "Get Shorty" makes yet another turn - right into the music industry. Tossing around ideas for his next film, Palmer gets involved with a struggling singer and wrests control of her from her crooked manager. A tug-of-war ensues along with all sorts of subplots - like Russian gangsters and a Samoan bodyguard with screen dreams. The bottom line? There are more insult-swapping and four-letter words here than plot. (292 pp.) By Kristina Lanier