"Blood and Guile," by William Hoffman, and "Elvis and Nixon," by Jonathan Lowy 

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Character Illusions
What starts as a routine hunting accident turns out to be anything but standard to the sheriff and district attorney of Seneca County, W. Va.. In "Blood and Guile" (HarperCollins, $24) Virginia author William Hoffman tells the story of three Richmond friends who embark on a grouse hunt with a new acquaintance. Before the weekend ends their fourth companion is killed by one of the men in what appears to be an accident, and Sheriff Sawyers is mounting an aggressive investigation. The narrator, attorney Walter Frampton, is confused by the authorities' attention to the case. After all, the death of Wendell Ripley was just an unfortunate mistake. But the crafty Sawyers is suspicious. After digging into the details of the hunt, he insists that Clifford Dickens return to Seneca County for a sworn deposition. Walter, who represents Cliff, sees no reason for all the scrutiny. But at the onset, he doesn't know what the authorities know about his two friends Cliff and Drake Wingo. When District Attorney Sam Tuggle and Walter meet to discuss the case Tuggle says, "Lord God you think you know people. You sit in this office, you find you never get down to the final layer of what a person really is. You can peel all the way through to the core and find you grabbed only air in your fingers." Much of what is uncovered in the following chapters is shocking yet credible. Things are not what they appear to be, as we learn that one character who seems to be the living embodiment of traditional masculine virtues is vexed by the memory of a brief homosexual liaison. We also find that Wendell Ripley was a key member of a religious cult called "The Watchers," who lived in a commune practicing vegetarianism while awaiting the Second Coming of the Lord. Wendell's trouble with the earthly behavior of one character plays prominently in the ensuing difficulties. The strange events of this novel unfold with precise attention to detail. While Hoffman is a skilled wordsmith, he doesn't waste a word in the telling of his perfectly structured tale. Each brief chapter contributes to the novel's effect either by giving us necessary information about a character or by leaving a titillating clue that adds to the suspense. Hoffman succeeds in giving us something unusual: a work of literary art that is also a captivating story. Unlike so many modern novels that are trapped in wordiness and psychobabble, Hoffman has written a plot-driven novel. Sure there is the artful use of descriptive language and keen insight into human psychology. But instead of these elements blocking the story, they are so carefully interwoven that they only enhance the novel's impact. When the layers of deception are finally peeled away we see the characters for what they are: not thoroughly evil but driven in part by base motives. Hoffman renders a striking portrait of men who are haunted by tragedy and buried truth. In doing so, he has given us a profound, modern parable. — John Toivonen The King and the President
Any person age 30 and older will thoroughly enjoy Jonathan Lowy's "Elvis and Nixon." As for younger generations—brush up on the history of the late 1960s and early 1970s before even thinking of picking this novel up. Although it is historically inaccurate, the author explains that there are some historical facts in this novel. Lowy's book is full of half-fictions and half-truths, which will keep even the historically challenged interested. Lowy's tale begins with the Elvis Presley, the King himself, as he storms out of Graceland in a drug-induced rage. The author then takes his readers to President Richard Nixon who is busily involved with Vietnam, especially My Lai and hippie protestors. Elvis decides to go to Washington, D.C., to talk with the president about how he can help with the fight against drugs and the Vietnam protestors. Now remember: Elvis is popping pills labeled both depressants and amphetamines as he pursues this goal. Meanwhile, Nixon's worries are the protestors chanting in Lafayette Park across from the White House. Numerous characters are introduced in the book as Elvis' journey from Graceland to the White House continues. Some characters are fictitious, while others are not. As the book progresses, the characters end up being connected in some strange way to each other. Lowy provides a Suggested Playlist section at the back of the book, because the story revolves around the music of that particular time period. There is one song suggested for you to listen to while you read each chapter. This is supposedly to help you understand the story better. There are a few words that fully describe Lowy's "Elvis and Nixon"—bizarre, confusing, and enlightening, but also hard to put down. — Melissa Jones

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