G. K. Wuori's "An American Outrage" explores small-town love and hate; Stephen Coonts' "Hong Kong" is a real techno-thriller. 

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Unfolding Tragedy
G.K. Wuori's new novel is a compelling story of unfolding drama in a small town, but don't be fooled by the title or the publisher's statement on the back — it's not so outrageous. The events of "An American Outrage" (Algonquin Books, $22.95) are, to be sure, strange, and the setting — a small town called Quillifarkeag, Maine —merits attention, but some missing elements make this novel less than "controversial," as it is called.

Leaving chronological organization far behind, Wuori stretches the events of just a couple of days (granted, two years apart) into 288 pages. Like Donna Tartt's "A Secret History," this novel begins by revealing what seems to be the end —Ellen DeLay, a reclusive woman in her 40s, is shot and killed by four police officers, led by Cary Anderson. The details of the murder are slowly explained; they come together as the narrator (Splotchy) fulfills his daughter Wilma's request to tell her story, the story of how she avenged Ellen's death.

Though the novel is told from Splotchy's point of view, the confessional nature of the situation admits the reader into the consciousness of nearly every major character as he or she reveals how they were part of the tragedies. Through interviews, Splotchy learns from Joe, Ellen's husband, that he accidentally locked Ellen in his toolbox for two days. When she emerged, there was a change in Ellen's personality that finally led her to leave Joe to live on her own, skinning and butchering hunters' kill. Igor, Liam and Pierre explain to Splotchy how they went out to the woods to drink, and how the fun ended when Igor's pinky finger was shot off by an unseen person. A call to the police sent Cary Anderson to Ellen's lonely house, where the tragedies begin, but never end.

Wuori's novel of small-town love and hate is a compelling read — the reader only knows as much as the narrator. The chronology is so tangled and the names so strange that it takes determination to keep it all straight, but the unanswered questions make you want to keep reading until the very last word.

— J.B. Shelleby

Stephen Coonts' readers won't be disappointed by his newest, "Hong Kong," (St. Martin's, $25.95) which again stars his model of testosterone-driven military perfection, Jake Grafton.

But the futuristic wizardry Coonts specializes in — usually by souping up a military aircraft until it amazes even its most ardent adherents — is supplied this time by Sergeant York robots, fascinating and deadly military gadgets that are hailed as the 21st-century replacement for the battle tank. They see. They shoot. They work in concert to conquer. They're even able to leap over (moderately tall) buildings.

But fascinating though his military techno-gadgets may be, Coonts replies primarily on a fast-paced plot full of action and derring-do to keep his readers turning pages as fast as they can.

In "Hong Kong," the U.S. government sends Grafton to the former British Crown Colony when it appears that the U.S. consul-general there is involved in a fund-raising mess. Grafton and Tiger Cole, the official under suspicion, go back a long ways together, back to Vietnam.

The closure of a foreign bank by Hong Kong's new communist government has the city ready to explode, and Grafton quickly learns that Cole is deeply involved in efforts to overthrow the Chinese government. To add to the tension, Grafton's wife, Callie, is kidnapped by rebels.

Coonts writes with a deft urgency laced with fascinating detail that never impedes his story's fast-forward progress. His explosive description of the climactic battle for Hong Kong between the Chinese and the rebel forces is mesmerizing. And what those high-tech robots can dish out with deadly accuracy guarantees readers will lose track of bedtime, especially when Grafton and his wife wind up as targets.

— Don Dale


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