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By Julie Finnin Day / February 25, 1999



WINDFALL BY James Magnuson Villard 291pp., $23.95

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Ben Lindbergh, a husband and father of two, is struggling. As his marriage, dignity, and well-being sag under the weight of financial burden, the young English professor watches his hopes for the future recede. Until one day he stumbles upon seven picnic coolers filled with more than $7 million.

At last, his ticket out.

But at first, Ben is consumed with hiding, spending, and keeping the money secret from his strait-laced wife. Eventually, he comes to realize that it belongs to thugs, and they're looking for him.

"Windfall," by James Magnuson, is not a story about mind-bending mysteries and clever sleuths. It's about paranoia.

Magnuson richly details a sun-scorched Texas landscape along with the fear-scorched mind of a middle-class dad caught in the compromise of his life.

Though he tells his story with a wonderful cinematic quality, "Windfall" is slow to develop page-turning suspense. And certain plot points don't seem entirely believable. Any truly paranoid person hiding $7 million - once he figured out that the money likely would lead murderous criminals to him and his family - probably would pack them up and leave town or turn the money in and join a witness relocation program. But not Ben, who displays an annoying level of passive naivet.

On the other hand, some of Magnuson's characters seem clich - like the half-witted Mexican drug dealers, or the fatherly homicide detective, shocked that Ben would lie to his wife to conceal his stash.

Those things aside, "Windfall" is an interesting tale of a man who gets the millions that many of us secretly wish for -and may be glad we don't have.