Good books: A black widow, a Dodge City doc and deadly games.

My escapist reading for the past couple of weeks covered a lot of ground–the old West, the new Midwest, the future North America and modern-day Manhattan. I grabbed two at the library based on my scientific method of good cover, good summary, an author not known to me, and enough pages to keep the entertainment coming for several days. The third is a mega-hit young adult book I could not resist any longer.

“Criminal Seduction” by Darian North (Dutton, 1993; Signet 1994) is a juicy thriller built around a murder case, complete with a mysterious widow charged with killing her husband, a well-known and troubled artist. The narrator is Owen Byrne, a Kansas cowboy-turned-author who is writing his first true-crime book about the case. I’m a sucker for a good story about a struggling writer. This one has enough plot twists and turns to keep even jaded mystery/thriller readers hooked. It’s not easy to segue from courtroom narrative to sex scenes, but North manages quite nicely.


“Doc” (Random House, 2011) was a surprise.  Author Mary Doria Russell manages to mix the myth and generous servings of true history about Dodge City in the 1870s together to make the legendary Doc Holliday come to life. Her humor is dry and clever — if you loved the irreverent HBO series Deadwood, this book is for you. Russell is a talented writer across genres, with a gift for focusing on unlikely friendships and love affairs as a means of understanding her characters. Doc’s liaison with a whore who converses with him in Latin is most memorable.

Other books by North and Russell are on my to-get list now. Is there anything better than discovering an enjoyable author with other books to her/his credit?

The third book is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, a fantasy set in the future, a genre I used to rate right below appliance manuals. Author Kevin Brockmeier (“The Illumination”) helped me realize the idiocy of this bias, so I finally picked up “The Hunger Games.” The book is inspired by Greek myth, reality TV and bleak war news, according to interviews with Collins, a former TV writer. The story is told from the point of view of Katness Everdeen, a tough teenage girl who is the hunter-gatherer for her fatherless family, and who must go off to fight to the death in the televised Hunger Games. Collins manages to indict today’s political and corporate villains without preaching, and throws in enough suspense and survival-by-wits to keep the reader riveted. Small wonder that two more books and a motion picture have popped up.

Buy all at Powell’s — best bookstore in America.

–Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett

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