A Monitor guide to Hardcover Fiction Bestsellers

1. THE DA VINCI CODE

Last Week: 1

by Dan Brown

Doubleday, $24.95

Available on tape

The body of a murdered museum director sprawled on the parquet floor of the Louvre starts an international chase in which a Harvard professor and a brilliant police cryptographer must flee the crime scene to prove their innocence. The trail literally becomes a quest for the Holy Grail, spanning 2,000 years of history hidden in codes within codes. Brown's retelling of the Grail myth is as much a pager-turner as the manhunt - and you'll never view "The Last Supper" the same way again. (454 pp.) By J. Johnson

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Unfavorable review

Book List: Mixed review

2. THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN

Last Week: 2

by Mitch Albom

Hyperion, $19.95

Available on tape

Albom follows up his bestseller "Tuesdays With Morrie" with his first novel about an amusement-park maintenance worker named Eddie who dies while trying to save a little girl. In the afterlife, he meets five people - some he didn't know, others close to his heart. Eddie discovers that life in heaven, much like the Tilt-A-Whirl and Pipeline Plunge rides that he maintained in his previous life, is a journey with many unexpected twists and turns. Albom has written a surprisingly profound and moving book. (196 pp.) By Lisa Leigh Connors

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

LAT: Favorable review

3. THE MURDER ROOM

Last Week: 3

by P.D. James

Alfred A. Knopf, $19.95

Available on tape

One of the grislier attractions of London's Dupayne Museum is its Murder Room, featuring artifacts from infamous murders of 1920s and '30s. They become even more infamous when someone begins copycatting the killings. Finding the culprit proves tricky for Adam Dalgliesh because the investigation threatens to derail his new relationship. The first half is a pleasure, as James masterfully introduces her cast of suspects, but the "shocking" revelations don't satisfy, and the romance is just a cipher. (415 pp.) By Yvonne Zipp

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Mixed review

Book List: Favorable review

4. POMPEII

Last Week: 12

by Robert Harris

Random House, $24.95

Available on tape

When a story opens two days before the explosion of Vesuvius, we know that by the end of the week none of these characters will be shouting "TGIF." But Harris manages to create suspense, nonetheless, by concentrating on the efforts of a Roman engineer to restore a damaged aqueduct before rioting breaks out. (The engineer doesn't know that another much larger disaster is about to render his plumbing problems irrelevant.) An exciting story, full of great history and a touch of romance. (248 pp.) (Full review Nov. 18) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

Book List: Favorable review

5. THE HORNET'S NEST

Last Week: 6

by Jimmy Carter

Simon & Schuster, $27

Available on tape

Far from the usual perspective of Philadelphia and the other Northern colonies, "The Hornet's Nest" provides a detailed history of the Revolutionary War in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. But true to President Carter's honest reputation, the story reads more like a lecture than a work of fiction, and it drags with tedious explanations. Still, Carter shows the divided reactions of the colonialists well, describing farmers who simply wanted to avoid London cronies or Rebel zealots. (480 pp.) (Full review Dec. 2) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Mixed review

Book List: Favorable review

6. THE BIG BAD WOLF

Last Week: 8

by James Patterson

Little Brown, $27.95

Available on tape

A simple trip to the mall, where a beautiful woman is kidnapped, leads police and FBI to multiple kidnappings, murder, and online buyers participating in white slavery. As a new FBI agent, Dr. Alex Cross uses his talents and expertise to track teams of predators headed by a master-mind known as The Wolf. His personal life takes an unexpected turn involving his ex-girlfriend and his loving family. Whether you think Dr. Cross is a hero or not, Patterson writes a fast-paced mystery that's hard to put down. (400 pp.) By Jeannine Fallon

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Unfavorable review

Book List: Unfavorable review Favorable review

7. SHEPHERDS ABIDING

Last Week: 5

by Jan Karon

Viking, $24.95

Available on tape

The love, joy, and faith of Christmas permeate the latest entry in Karon's popular Mitford series. This time, the spotlight shines on residents Hope Winchester, Uncle Billy, and Lew Boyd as they work out their troubles, large and small. But the main focus is on Father Tim, who discovers an antique crèche and decides to restore it, despite concerns that it's too ambitious a project for a man who rarely works with his hands. Many readers will feel the ending is too pat, but fans will find this an appealing read. (288 pp.) By Judy Lowe

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

Publishers Weekly: Favorable review

8. BLEACHERS

Last Week: 4

by John Grisham

Doubleday, $19.95

Neely Crenshaw breaks his boycott on his hometown to return for the funeral of his high school football coach, Eddie Rake. In doing so, the former star quarterback confronts both the glories and deprivations of his past. Crenshaw is the stereotypical high school star - prone to self-aggrandizement and self-doubts. Coach Eddie Rake is the stereotypical Southern football coach - rough, gruff, and likeable at the same time. The short novella, minus mystery, is not Grisham's strong suit. (163 pp.) By Faye Bowers

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

The New York Times: Unfavorable review

Publishers Weekly: Mixed review

9. SKIPPING CHRISTMAS

Last Week: 7

by John Grisham

Doubleday, $19.95

Available on tape

To show us what can happen if you walk away from the chaotic frenzy that has become the Christmas season, Grisham tells the story of a couple who attempt to do just that. With their only daughter off in the Peace Corps, they decide to save their sanity and take a cruise. But their neighbors, the shop owners, the firemen, the policemen, and even the Boy Scouts don't seem to understand. Unfortunately, this is a very short story that seems to go on and on - a lump of literary coal in the Christmas stocking. (178 pp.) By Anne Toevs

The Christian Science Monitor: Unfavorable review

National Post: Unfavorable review

10. THE NAMESAKE

Last Week: 9

by Jhumpa Lahiri

Houghton Mifflin, $24

Available on tape

After a Pulitzer Prize-winning debut ("Interpreter of Maladies"), Lahiri returns to themes of identity, loss, and love in her first full-length novel. She tells the story of Gogol Ganguli, the son of Indian-American immigrants, struggling from childhood to figure out who he is. Any child of immigrants will relate to the divide separating him from his parents. Even his name is a source of confusion. Fans of her short stories will not be surprised to discover there is no happy ending here, though it's a satisfying read. (291 pp.) By Seth Stern

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Library Journal: Favorable review

11. THE DARK TOWER V: WOLVES OF THE CALLA

Last Week: 10

by Stephen King

Simon & Schuster, $35

Available on tape

It's not easy to join a tale midway through, but the fifth novel in Stephen King's "Dark Tower" fantasy series is still an engaging tale. Readers joining late, though, will confront insider terms used by the main characters, a "ka-tet" of "gunslingers" led by Roland Deschain of Gilead. The many literary and film references, from "The Wizard of Oz" to spaghetti Westerns, are at first fun but then tiresome as Roland's posse pauses in its larger quest to help the folk of Calla Bryn Sturgis repel wolf-masked raiders. (736 pp.) By Kristen Worthington

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

The New York Times: Mixed review

Book List: Favorable review

12. TROJAN ODYSSEY

Last Week: 11

by Clive Cussler

G.P. Putnam's Sons, $27.95

Available on tape

A tumultuous thriller from the outset, Cussler's latest in the Dirk Pitt action series begins with a once-in-a-millennium hurricane that threatens to annihilate a floating luxury hotel. Major discoveries are the motif - from artifacts that could alter recorded ancient history to a subterranean excavation project designed to put Europe in a deep freeze. Cussler is no Homer - "Trojan Odyssey" is not for the literati - but he deftly submerges the reader in an underwater adventure as bantam as a Batman plot. (485 pp.) By Marie Ewald

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

Book List: Favorable review

13. THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE

Last Week: 14

by Audrey Niffenegger

MacAdam Cage, $25

Available on tape

Clare met Henry when she was 6 and he was 36; he met her when she was 20 and he was 28. Henry has a genetic disorder that causes him to time-travel - a complication that puts most couple's money worries to shame. Niffenegger sets up a fascinating conceit, but then doesn't do enough with it to fill the book's 500 pages. Sci-fi fans are likely to find the tale too goopy, but romance fans will likely be intrigued - as long as they like a hefty dollop of melodrama with their love story. (518 pp.) By Yvonne Zipp

The Christian Science Monitor: Mixed review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

Book List: Favorable review

14. LOVE

by Toni Morrison

Knopf, $23.95

Available on tape

Readers who know Morrison's work only from her surreal classic "Beloved" will be surprised by the subtlety and humor of "Love," a story about a group of women who revolve around the memory of their late patriarch and lover. Morrison plays up the gothic comedy of these warring old women well and presses deep into the complexity of their ruined affection for each other. Ultimately, "Love" reaches a point of real reconciliation, but it's cast in the dark light of lives wasted by conflict. (Full review Oct. 28.) (525 pp.) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Unfavorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

Newsweek: Favorable review

15. THE PLEASURE OF MY COMPANY

by Steven Martin

Hyperion, $19.95

Available on tape

The narrator of Martin's wry new novella mirrors the author's sharply honed talent for telescopic, humorous voyeurism. Daniel Pecan Cambridge is a self-aware savant and pseudo shut-in. His tangled encounters with love, therapy, neighbors, reality television, and an essay-writing contest ultimately free him from a life choked by neuroses. Daniel's transformation unfolds through detail-rich vignettes, featuring an instantly believable cast of characters which never weigh down the book's almost Zen-like structure. (163 pp.) By Deborah Bloom

The Christian Science Monitor: Favorable review

The New York Times: Favorable review

Kirkus Review of Books: Favorable review

Library Journal: Favorable review

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