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Mississippi Books and Writers

February 2004

Note: Prices listed below reflect the publisher's suggested list price. They are subject to change without notice.

The Last Juror

By John Grisham

Doubleday (Hardcover, $27.95, ISBN: 0385510438)

Publication date: February 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly:

Grisham has spent the last few years stretching his creative muscles through a number of genres: his usual legal thrillers (The Summons, The King of Torts, etc.), a literary novel (The Painted House), a Christmas book (Skipping Christmas) and a high school football elegy (Bleachers). This experimentation seems to have imbued his writing with a new strength, giving exuberant life to this compassionate, compulsively readable story of a young man’s growth from callowness to something approaching wisdom.

Willie Traynor, 23 and a college dropout, is working as a reporter on a small-town newspaper, the Ford County Times, in Clanton, Miss. When the paper goes bankrupt, Willie turns to his wealthy grandmother, who loans him $50,000 to buy it. Backed by a stalwart staff, Willie labors to bring the newspaper back to health. A month after his first issue, he gets the story of a lifetime, the murder of beautiful young widow Rhoda Kasselaw. After being raped and knifed, the nude Rhoda staggered next door and whispered to her neighbor as she was dying, “Danny Padgitt. It was Danny Padgitt.”

The killer belongs to an infamous clan of crooked highway contractors, killers and drug smugglers who live on impregnable Padgitt Island. Willie splashes the murder all over the Times, making him both an instant success and a marked man. The town is up in arms, demanding Danny’s head. After a near miss (the Padgitts are known for buying themselves out of trouble), Danny is convicted and sentenced to life in prison. As he’s dragged out of the courtroom, he vows revenge on the jurors. Willie finds, to his consternation, that in Mississippi life doesn’t necessarily mean life, so in nine years Danny is back out — and jurors begin to die.

Around and through this plot Grisham tells the sad, heroic, moving stories of the eccentric inhabitants of Clanton, a small town balanced between the pleasures and perils of the old and the new South. The novel is heartfelt, wise, suspenseful and funny, one of the best Grishams ever.

—Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

High Country

By Nevada Barr

Putnam (Hardcover, $24.95, ISBN: 0399151443)

Publication date: February 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly :

The serene snow country suddenly turns deadly for Anna Pigeon in Barr’s riveting 12th novel to feature the intrepid National Park Service ranger (after 2003’s Flashback). On assignment to locate four young park employees who went missing in a fierce storm, the 50ish Anna is working undercover as a waitress at Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel, where she must deal not only with an exacting supervisor and a surly head chef but also share a dorm with 20-something roommates. Evoking the stunning beauty of the park in winter, Barr contrasts the relative safety of Yosemite Valley with the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains into which Anna treks in search of the missing kids. Danger crackles like ice on the frozen lake where she finds a partially submerged plane loaded with drugs. Attacked by vicious poachers, Anna flees into the absolute, terrifying darkness for an ordeal that will keep readers eagerly turning the pages. So well done is this nail-biting sequence that the resolution can come only as something of a letdown. Barr has a true gift for outdoor writing, using the lush snow as natural cover for the violent life in the wild as well as among the park’s human custodians. Anyone contemplating a nice winter hike will think twice after entering the wilderness with Anna, but her fans always come back for more.

—Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Flashback

By Nevada Barr

Berkley (Paperback, $7.99, ISBN: 0425194493)

Publication date: February 2004

Description from Publishers Weekly :

When it comes to a vibrant sense of place, Barr has few equals, as deliciously demonstrated in her 11th Anna Pigeon novel (after 2002’s Hunting Season), set in little-known Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles off Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. Anna takes up her new post on Garden Key, home to Fort Jefferson, a notorious Union prison during the Civil War, after fleeing a marriage proposal from just-divorced Sheriff Paul Davidson. As she goes about her duties, Anna quickly becomes ensnared in one life-threatening situation after another. Anna’s fans expect no less; all her postings somehow turn dangerous. Indeed, the contrast between the natural beauty of the landscapes and the human evils within them is a recurring theme. But this one has an added twist: a mystery concerning alleged Lincoln assassination conspirator Dr. Samuel Mudd interweaves with current crimes. In a coincidence best left unscrutinized, Anna’s great-great-great-aunt was the wife of the fort’s commanding officer, and her letters, relating a story of intrigue and murder, have surfaced. The two stories are told in alternating chapters, and only Barr’s skill keeps this familiar device fresh. The pitch-perfect 19th-century phrasing in the letters makes it easy to forgive the occasional over-the-top prose in the modern scenes. But this is a quibble. Those who already admire the doughty National Park ranger will rejoice in this double-layered story with its remarkable setting, passionately rendered; new readers have a treat in store.

—Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.



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