Bestselling Hardcover Fiction

1. 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. Beth Cappadora, 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, Beth tells seven-year-old Vincent to look after three-year-old Ben. Ben disappears. Mitchard's detailed and realistic portrait of the Cappadora family follows. By Merle Rubin

2. "M" IS FOR MALICE, by Sue Grafton, Henry Holt, $25

This is the 13th in Sue Grafton's series starring private detective Kinsey Millhone and one of the best. In the latest, fast-paced installment, Millhone is retained to find Guy Malek, the prodigal son of recently deceased construction executive Bader Malek. Guy's three brothers want to find him but only to ensure he doesn't collect his $5 million share of the family fortune. In addition to the who-done-it, Grafton offers interesting insights on family life and a materialistic society. By David T. Cook

3. THE LAWS OF OUR FATHERS, by Scott Turow, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.95

This book is a memoir disguised as a court room drama. Turow creates a world of inner-city drug gangs, the law-enforcement officers who arrest them, the lawyers who prosecute and defend them, and the judges who sentence them. The characters have flash-backs to the '60s and Turow makes the reader wonder if the world changed at all. By confessing all their sins and misdemeanors, they seek meaning in their lives. Violence, profanity, and sex are elements in the story. By Janet Moller

4. THE TAILOR OF PANAMA, by John le Carr, Putnam, $27.95

The master of spy fiction is as charmingly convoluted as ever. The tailor of Panama is Harry Pendal, suborned into a role as spy by a blackmailing British agent, who in turn is trying to bleed the intelligence service, which in turn has run out of reasons for its own existence. Tailor Harry dresses the rich and powerful in Panama listening for important information. There isn't much, but he dresses it up, and gossip turns into intelligence. The characters are all fabulists, vintage le Carr. By Jeff Danziger

5. DESPERATION, by Stephen King, Viking, $27.95

When an oversized cop brutally arrests several travelers driving down a lonely highway in Nevada, they are forced to battle an evil that has wiped out the entire town of Desperation. They face killer creature-inhabited humans and wild desert animals that appeared after an infamous mine shaft was rediscovered. Though the graphic depiction and suspense live up to King's fame, the novel becomes a weak theological contest between the devil and God, who is presumed to be cruel and evil. By Debbie Hodges

6. THE THIRD TWIN, by Ken Follett, Crown, $25.95

The idea of diabolical genetic manipulation is not new to suspense, but Ken Follett has moved the idea from fantasy to possibility, and therein lies the appeal of this engaging thriller. Identical twins are born to different mothers at different times. Investigations uncover the "usual suspects": a racist US senator, an evil corporate entity, and a brilliant scientist gone bad. Follett's only mistake is an overemphasis on sexual violence, which taints an otherwise excellent book. By Tom Regan

7. MY GAL SUNDAY, by Mary Higgins Clark, Simon & Schuster, $23

Henry and Sunday, Mary Higgins Clark's latest dynamic duo, have no less than the Secret Service by their side as they sleuth their way through four short stories. A well-connected husband-and-wife team, ex-President Henry and Congresswoman Sunday unravel mysteries ranging from a murder connected to their former secretary of State to the past of a Latin American dictator. The plots are predictable and their relationship is implausible but the short-story format keeps the pages turning. By Jennifer Green

8. 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 and longest - 874 pp. - 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

9. THE REGULATORS, by Richard Bachman, Dutton, $24.95

Hyped as the last book written by Richard Bachman before his death in 1985 (Bachman actually is a pen name used by Stephen King), this is a deeply disturbing, unsatisfying book. It opens with a tranquil scene of suburban America, but quickly turns violent as innocent children are cold-bloodedly gunned down. It becomes the story of another young child whose supernatural powers must battle an evil entity known as the Regulators. This book lacks the subtlety to be truly horrifying. By Tom Regan

10. THE NOTEBOOK, by Nicholas Sparks, Warner, $16.95

"The Notebook" proves that good things come in small packages and 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

11. TO THE HILT, by Dick Francis, Putnam, $24.95

The hilt in question is the hilt of the sword used by Bonnie Prince Charlie himself, entrusted to the care of the family of our hero, Alexander Kinlock. Kinlock, a solitary soul who would rather spend his time on desolate moors painting, finds himself mixed up with a host of problems when he goes to help his mother and his stepfather save his business and protect the great sword. His 35th novel, this is one of Francis's best tales. And as always there are lots of horses thrown in. By Tom Regan

12. THE YELLOW ADMIRAL, by Patrick O'Brian, W.W. Norton, $24

Tension between the land and sea is at the heart of the latest in Patrick O'Brian's series of sea adventures. As the story begins, we find the English heroes Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin on the beach. With Bonaparte in exile on the island of Elba, the opportunities for promotion are few. O'Brian is a mannerist and social historian as well as a naval buff, and his depiction of Aubrey's home life as a country squire and lord of the manor is warmly and humorously drawn. By Frederick Pratter

13. THE CELESTINE PROPHECY, by James Redfield, Warner, $17.95

Well-intended but poorly written, the plot is a cross between "Indiana Jones" and a self-help book. The hero is on a quest for a recently discovered Peruvian manuscript that details the progress of spirituality at the end of the 20th century. At different stages of the journey, he and his fellow searchers discover spiritual "insights," nine in total. Rather than profound, the book is awash in such clichs such as the need to "become conscious of the coincidences in our lives." By Yvonne Zipp

14. JACK AND JILL, by James Patterson, Little, Brown, $24.95

Detective Cross is working out two serial murder plots. One is the killing of black children in southeastern Washington, D.C., the other high-profile celebrities inside the beltway. Engrossingly written, but with brutally violent descriptions and much foul language. The plot twists take him onto the mean streets and into the corridors of power. The ultimate target is the president. A racially charged subplot challenges different police and media attention to similar crimes with different victims. By Terri Theiss

15. THE LAW OF LOVE, by Laura Esquivel, Crown, $25

The author, who charmed readers with her tale of love and cooking in "Like Water for Chocolate," disappoints with her second offering. Heralded as the first "multimedia" novel, the book uses words, music (it includes a CD), and illustrations to tell a convoluted story of how two soul mates travel through their past to be together. Everyone is capable of finding happiness if they let love motivate their actions. But an almost cartoonish plot and paper-thin characters ring hollow. By Christina Nifong



IF THESE WALLS HAD EARS, by James Morgan, Warner Books, 275 pp., $22.95

'The story of America has always been the story of a search for home," James Morgan writes. "It's a restless journey in which we never quite seem to arrive."

He states, "If there's peace in your heart, your house will reflect it. If there's rage, your house will reveal it. If there's indecision or indolence, your house will bear the brunt of it."

Like many Americans in a mobile society, Morgan has put down roots and pulled up stakes many times. By his count, he has lived in 25 houses, which always left him wondering: Who had lived there before him and what were their stories?

That curiosity reached a peak seven years ago when Morgan and his new wife moved into a spacious 1920s-era bungalow in Little Rock, Ark., with a wraparound porch and a massive elm in the front yard. Spurred by a casual conversation with a neighbor, Morgan, a former magazine editor, began researching the house's past, tracking down previous owners and their families and talking to former neighbors. Then, stitching together interviews, old snapshots, and even diary entries, he turned his domestic sleuthing into a fascinating book, "If These Walls Had Ears."

Yet Morgan's unusual "biography" is more than the account of a single house and its varied owners. Part social and cultural history, part autobiography, it also offers a reflection, a meditation, on the idea of home - the universal yearning for roots and security that involves far more than a search for the right four walls, the right space, the right neighborhood.

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