Book roundup

Can five established authors ride the success of their previous novels? Reviewer Yvonne Zipp finds out.

The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory ($24.95)

Gregory returns to the era of her bestselling "The Other Boleyn Girl," but this time she's chronicling the marriages of Henry VIII's first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Daughter of Spain's warrior-queen Isabella (she of the Inquisition and the New World), Katherine was raised to become queen of England from age 3. After only five months of marriage, her husband, the prince of Wales, dies, and Katherine begins what will be a seven-year campaign to marry his brother, Henry. The early scenes of Spain and Katherine's first marriage are particularly engaging, but one can't help feeling that her mother might have been a more exciting subject for a novel. Also, Gregory indulges in some "can't we all get along" commentary regarding the Moors that feels anachronistic, if laudable. Grade: B

The Friendship Test, by Elizabeth Noble ($13.95)

Elizabeth Noble's debut novel, "The Reading Group," with its tale of interlocking, multigenerational stories, established her as a bestseller in both the US and Great Britain. Her follow-up is a more generic entry in the annals of "chick-lit." Ostensibly, "Test" is the tale of four friends who face a crisis 20 years after college, but it's really the story of Freddy, an American living in London, who finds out that her estranged father has died the same day her husband announces that he's leaving her. (Talk about multitasking!) Freddy's quite likable, but even the most unobservant reader will spot her happy ending coming from about page 57. Grade: C+

A Long Shadow: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery, by Charles Todd ($23.95)

It's 1919, but Inspector Ian Rutledge still can't leave World War I behind. (He shares head space with Hamish MacLeod, a soldier he executed for insubordination.) But Rutledge's psychological troubles don't interfere with his powers of detection. This time out, he's trying to uncover an archer who shot a constable in the back. The murder attempt seems tied to a missing persons case: A young girl disappeared three years before, and the villagers believe her body is buried in the woods where the constable was attacked. The mystery is reminiscent of Agatha Christie's "Nemesis," but Todd changes things up by giving Rutledge his own stalker, who leaves ornately decorated shell cartridges in some unlikely places. Grade: B+

Rampart Street, by David Fulmer ($25)

For a bittersweet trip to New Orleans, pick up Fulmer's new mystery starring Creole detective Valentin St. Cyr. Fulmer paints a vivid picture of the Crescent City in the early years of the 20th century - particularly its more pungent portions. St. Cyr, who's been working as a bouncer in a gambling saloon, is unwillingly pressed into service when a rich white businessman is found murdered. The victim's daughter persuades him to take the case seriously, to the displeasure of the city's power brokers. Then another tycoon is fished out of the river - one with shadowy ties to the first dead man. The solution isn't as satisfying as it might have been, but the journey is a blues-soaked pleasure. Grade: B

Turning Angel, by Greg Iles ($25.95)

Kate Townsend is one of those teenage blondes that populate thrillers aimed at middle-aged men - a beautiful, brainy, sexually adventurous girl with a daddy complex. She's also dead: Her body was found in a river near Natchez, Miss. Penn Cage, the hero of Iles's "The Quiet Game," finds himself back in the investigation business when a childhood friend admits he was having an affair with Kate (and using her to get drugs to feed his wife's dependency). Determined to clear what's left of his friend's name, Penn dives into a nasty mishmash of drugs, violence, and racial politics. A real comedown from Iles's darkly engrossing "Blood Memory," this one gets a "D" for distasteful. Grade: D

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