John Lescroart came to fiction writing after a near-death experience.
While a legal clerk in Los Angeles, he took a break one day to go body-surfing. The next day he was in a Pasadena hospital, a victim of spinal meningitis contracted from contaminated seawater. Eleven days later, his doctors said he was out of the woods and on the way to recovery.
Lescroart quit his day job and took to writing. His latest novel, "The Oath," (Dutton, $25.95) has just been published. The 13 that preceded it have been best sellers.
Not surprisingly, Lescroart's specialty is legal thrillers. In "The Oath," he centers the action for the ninth time on Dismas Hardy, an attorney who manages to juggle his practice and his family life without well hardly ever neglecting either.
This time, Hardy's client is Dr. Eric Kensing, the prime suspect in the murder of the head of San Francisco's largest HMO. It's clear how the victim suffered massive internal injuries: he was injured by a hit-and-run driver. But an autopsy shows that he died from an overdose of potassium administered in his own hospital.
Hardy turns to his close friend Abe Glitsky, a veteran homicide detective, who wants Kensing indicted. Their friendship is put to the test and almost ends as the two men manipulate the system and each other. Hardy first discovers that the murder has less to do with personal conflict and more to do with finances at the HMO, then he uncovers evidence that too many people have been dying at the hospital.
Lescroart has constructed a story that moves at breakneck speed, at times too fast for the reader to take in. And the novel's cast is so large it's sometimes difficult to remember who's who and what their roles are. Nonetheless, his dense plot is deftly constructed and ultimately satisfying. But readers often may find themselves too confused to appreciate the story fully as he works his way to the novel's final twist. Don Dale
Don't Forget Ireland
In this world of conflict between ethnic and religious groups, the Irish "Troubles" have been going on for so long that we tend to forget their human dimension.
In "This Troubled Land: Voices from Northern Ireland," (Ballantine Books, $24.95) Patrick Michael Rucker has done us the favor of bringing to life some of the people whose lives have been ruined by the hostility, a hostility that seems, from his stories, to be fated to be endless.
In 1998 Rucker moved to Ireland and talked to combatants on both sides, and to everyday citizens whose family and friends just managed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their sad narratives certainly demonstrate how hard (if not impossible) it is to see how peace will ever come.
If there is a weakness in this book, it is the plethora of characters Rucker introduces. It is often hard to keep them straight. But, after reading this book, it should be hard for us to put Northern Ireland's "Troubles" out of mind. Rozanne Epps
Patrick Rucker graduated from the University of Richmond. He wrote a Back Page for Style on March 2, 1999: "The Wearing of the Green: When we celebrate on March 17, let's know who and what we are celebrating."
Worried about what the butler's duties should be when you give a dinner party? Or whether you should disagree at a business meeting? Or who expects a tip and who would be insulted by one? Take heart. Doubleday has published the 50th anniversary edition of "Amy Vanderbilt's Book of Etiquette" (1995, $32). You'll find the answers to these questions and many more in the book's 786 pages. It's always easier if you know what's expected of you in almost any situation.
If you need more help, Broadway Books presents "The Art of the Handwritten Note: A guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication" by Margaret Shepherd ($16) To encourage this decidedly non-e-mail correspondence Shepherd supplies proper phrases, for almost any occasion. The publishers are leaving us with no excuses for poor
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