Book Reviews


It's not easy to win a spot on the best-seller list for fiction unless you're John Grisham or Stephen King. And they both have new novels out this month. King's is called "Duma Key." Grisham's is titled "The Appeal."

Our reviewer Alan Cheuse expects these books, too, will be blockbusters.

ALAN CHEUSE: Both of these novels will soon be climbing up those best-seller lists and for mostly good reasons.

First, "The Appeal." The opening pages find a small town jury siding with a widow who's lost her family to a toxic dump fouling the local water supply. She's due $41 million from Krane Chemical, the company found at fault. But Krane quickly appeals the decision and pours millions more into buying itself a new state Supreme Court judge, hoping he'll overturn the jury's finding on appeal. Will he or won't he? That's the melodramatic heartbeat of this rather routinely told novel.

But despite characters who feel cinematic - more indicated then flashed out -and some over-the-top cartoonlike descriptions of life among the chemical tycoons and their lackeys, it's still worth the reading. Apart from the story or the characters, what stays with you here is the message: Justice is expensive and - take note, John Edwards fans - trial lawyers are the heroes of our time.

Now, if Grisham's "The Appeal" leads you by the hand, Stephen King's new novel "Duma Key" takes you by the throat for some 600 pages. King sets his story on a hurricane-swept Florida isle and employs a mechanism familiar to fans of his terror epics. There's an evil power on the loose that wants to do certain people harm. This time around, it's a telekinetic pagan goddess who thrives in salt water.

This evil genie comes after a middle-aged Michigan contractor-turned-painter who's lost an arm in a construction accident and has rented a seaside house where he hopes to recuperate. The house isn't haunted. The entire beach is. Maybe even your copy of this book.

King may play on childhood fears but he himself keeps on maturing as a novelist. And "Duma Key" stands as one of his frightening best.

BLOCK: The novels are "The Appeal" by John Grisham and "Duma Key" by Stephen King. Reviewer Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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