The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers

Hardcover fiction

1. THE STREET LAWYER, by John Grisham, Doubleday, $27.95

John Grisham has done it again. This novel lends itself so well to visual images we can certainly expect to see it on the big screen. It all begins when a homeless person walks into a prestigious D.C. law office and threatens to blow himself up. Readers can almost smell the unwashed aroma of life on the streets. The hero, a high-powered attorney in the same law firm, takes up the cause for the homeless, eventually going up against his old employer.

By Carol Hartman

2. PARADISE, by Toni Morrison, Alfred A. Knopf, $25

In her first novel since winning a Nobel Prize, Morrison tells the story of a remote, all-black town in Oklahoma founded in 1949 as a "paradise" of stability and safety. But the effects of racism on relationships among blacks warps values and stirs paranoia, leading to the grisly murder in 1976 of women in a commune on the outskirts of town - women believed responsible for the town's decay. The irony in the book's title finds expression in the complications of returning to paradise through a history of strife. By Ron Charles

3. COLD MOUNTAIN, by Charles Frazier, Atlantic Monthly Press, $24

The American Civil War is the shattering force that disrupts and rearranges the lives of the characters in this richly rewarding first novel. Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier, turns his back on a war that has robbed him of any illusions about military glory. He sets off to find his way home to Ada, the woman he hoped to marry. Frazier's writing style is aptly reminiscent of the mid-19th century but not distractingly antiquated.

By Merle Rubin

4. BLACK AND BLUE, by Anna Quindlen, Random House, $22.50

Through the story of a courageous woman who flees her abusive husband, Quindlen deftly explores the rocky emotional terrain of love and marriage, choices and consequences. Fran Benedetto, a 38-year-old nurse, with the help of an underground network, secretly takes her 10-year-old son to a small Florida town where she gradually learns to overcome the isolation of her new fugitive life. The story carries the ring of truth. Its aching sadness is redeemed in part by its tender portrait of indomitable maternal love. By Marilyn Gardner

5. FEAR NOTHING, by Dean Koontz, Bantam, $26.95

"Fear Nothing" is Koontz's third book in 18 months and has the feel of mass production. Christopher Snow can venture outside only at night because he has been diagnosed with a light-sensitive condition. He soon discovers a bizarre experiment involving his late mother. As he did in "Intensity," Koontz creates compelling characters. Unlike "Intensity," however, "Fear Nothing" features an inane plot. It's also too long. Some violent scenes, and lots of talk of rare diseases.

By Tom Regan

6. MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, by Arthur Golden, Alfred A. Knopf, $25

Golden's debut novel unlocks the world of a traditional geisha. Told through the voice of Sayuri, a young girl sold into the near-slavery of a geisha house in the early 1930s, the story offers a historically enlightening glimpse of this age-old element of Japanese culture. Tracing Sayuri's emergence from lowly maid to geisha of renown, Golden shapes solid but predictable characters. Sexual situations are handled tastefully.

By Kristina Lanier

7. THE WINNER, by David Baldacci, Warner, $25

Baldacci continues to come up with clever, thriller plots. In "The Winner," however, the violence is overdone and the descriptions of the main character are repetitive. The National Lottery is exploited by a smart, yet vicious psychopath who fixes the winning numbers and then selects the winners. He invests their money, creating billions for himself. His twisted plans are foiled by LuAnn Tyler (readers will not forget Tyler, she is smart, sexy, and strong) who enlists the help of a former FBI agent to expose the fraud. By Janet Moller

8. CUBA LIBRE, by Elmore Leonard, Delacorte Press, $23.95

Days after the explosion of the US battleship Maine in Havana Harbor, an American cowboy arrives in Cuba with a plan for personal gain by running guns to the Cuban patriots. Thus begins a tale of romance and suspense set against the backdrop of the Spanish-American War. The novel has plenty of fiction but not much history. Leonard also uses an awkward sentence construction that makes for choppy reading. His use of witty (though often violent) characters carries the story. By Daniel T. Niederman

9. A CERTAIN JUSTICE, by P.D. James, Alfred A. Knopf, $25

This is the doyen of British mystery writing's first look at crime in the Law Courts and London legal community. It is not convincing, at least for the high expectations one brings to anything written by James. An aggressive and highly successful woman barrister has made a career of defending some of the most heinous criminals in England. She is stabbed to death in chambers. Not even her daughter is sorry. Unrealistic motives and a contrived perpetrator undercut this Dalgliesh mystery. By Jim Bencivenga

10. THE CAT WHO SANG FOR THE BIRDS, by Lilian Jackson Braun, Putnam, $22.95

The fictional town Pickax, in Moose County, 400 miles north of everywhere, is the scene of the crime in Braun's 20th "Cat Who"... mystery book. The town's newspaper columnist, Jim Qwilleran, leads readers through this mostly unsuspenseful murder mystery. With the help of his psychic Siamese Koko, and various eccentric locals, Qwilleran pieces together the real story surrounding a suspicious fire, stolen artwork, and the disappearance of a young artist. Interesting characters, weak plot. By Kendra Nordin

11. THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS, by Arundhati Roy, Random House, $23

It's easy to see why first-time author Arundhati Roy's novel has captured so much attention. This tale of a deeply troubled family in the south Indian state of Kerala is ambitious - shuttling between past and present and juggling a host of characters, from seven-year-old twins Rahel and Estha to their English cousin, Sophie Mol. But in the end, despite the unfolding tragedies, the story may leave some readers feeling strangely empty.

By Suzanne MacLachlan

12. CAT & MOUSE, by James Patterson, Little Brown & Co., $24.95

Detective Alex Cross is at it again, proving that "sooner or later almost every police investigation becomes a game of cat and mouse." As if tracking down mass murderer Gary Soneji isn't enough, he finds himself on the trail of an international serial killer, "Mr. Smith," whose handiwork is even more gruesome. When the evil hijinks cross paths, he starts putting pieces together - all the while being the loving family man and falling in love for the first time since his wife's death.

By Kirstin Conover

13. NUMBERED ACCOUNT, by Christopher Reich, Delacorte Press, $24.95

In his first novel, Christopher Reich explains why bankers need so many holidays: They're exhausted from the international espionage. Nick, an ex-marine, chucks everything to work for a Swiss bank in hopes of discovering his father's murderer. During his quest he runs into all the usual suspects: a Muslim fanatic, downsized Soviet soldiers, shady US spooks, and enough corpses to fill a morgue. In addition to the stereotypes, readers may be put off by the instances of nasty violence, torture, sex, and swearing. By Yvonne Zipp

14. NIGHT TRAIN, by Martin Amis, Crown Publishing Group, $20

"Night Train," the story of female cop Mike Hoolihan (yes, Mike), pays homage to noir detective thrillers even as it slyly subverts them. The night train is a metaphor for Hoolihan's low-rent life and the suicide she investigates: that of a beautiful, bright young woman. Amis is returning to an earlier theme: the futility of asking 'why?' The prose moves and dazzles, but this nihilistic book is a depressing, unsettling read.

By Nicole Gaouette

15. THE INVESTIGATORS, by W.E.B. Griffin, Putnam, $24.95

This is W.E.B. Griffin's newest in his "Badge of Honor" series. It's a street-level look at the law-enforcement world of police officers of all types - heroic, good, decent, bad, and obnoxious. It's a well-written tale of find the bad cop, protect yourself come what may, and then get the girl. In spite of the fact that it's set in and around the world of elite Philadelphia society, it is a little raw; a guys book.

By Carol Hartman



By Paul C. Nagel

Alfred A. Knopf

419 pp., $30

No president looked more hard-boiled than John Quincy Adams. The familiar portrait, done late in life, suggests a man whose convictions were as firm as the granite of his native New England. And, indeed, J.Q.A. had an abundance of that rocklike quality.

But he was also a man pursued by self-doubt, capable of writing passionate love letters to his wife, and gripped by a desire to devote his life to literature and his personal muse.

It's this very human, often vulnerable Adams that emerges from Paul Nagel's new biography of the only American politician to succeed his father (28 years later) in the White House.

This book is about a complicated, intensely private human being who left a fascinating self-portrait in the journal entries he made throughout his long life.

During his final, most fulfilling years in politics as "old man eloquent" in the House of Representatives, he tirelessly battled the South's efforts to keep slavery off the national agenda recently portrayed in his successful supreme court defense in the film, Amistad.

The John Quincy Adams that Nagel introduces us to is someone every American ought to meet. He was a man always out in front of his times, yet heavily weighed down by personal doubts and family cares. In the end, he triumphed, achieving, to some degree at least, the almost impossibly high standards he set for himself.

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