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Page-turning nonfiction takes readers into tragic, religious fanaticism.

The focal point of Krakauer’s book is the brutal killings of Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter, Erica. Brenda’s brothers-in-law, Ron and Dan Lafferty, two Mormon fundamentalists, executed her and her daughter because they believed they were ordered to kill by God. Krakauer sets the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints against this bloody act as a means to understand the misguided thinking of these men. In doing so, Krakauer paints a picture of the radical ideas (polygamy and personal revelations with God) that founded an American religion that is practiced by millions all over the world.

Covering everything from the beginnings of modern day Mormonism with Joseph Smith to the violence of the Meadow Massacre with Brigham Young, Krakauer’s exhaustive research guides the reader through the ideology that so obsessed the Lafferty brothers. In doing so, he shows how an obsessive mind can warp the principles of religion into actions that aren’t Christian at all. Krakauer’s pacing of the nonfiction book makes it just as much a page turner as anything by Stephen King.

Fathers and Sons

The story of a son being reunited with his lost father might be something you expect to see on “Oprah.” But the violence and raw emotion of Jim Lewis’ third novel “The King Is Dead” (Knopf, $24) makes it a tale to which “Oprah” fans probably won’t readily warm up.

The relationship between Walter Selby and his son Frank was shredded by a crime that makes Frank an orphan by the time he turns 6. Lewis’ novel spans the lives of the two men and focuses on the psychological weight of heredity. In separate sections, Lewis shows the minds of both men, allowing the reader to see the world through the characters’ eyes. In language that rivals the best poetry, Lewis brings his characters alive with the pain and fragility of a family unable to survive the past that formed it.

As Frank learns about the events that led to his father’s crime, he begins to see himself clearly for the first time. Lewis’ delicate plot allows the reader to uncover an unsettling kinship between the dysfunctional characters and himself — something that you’ll never feel from the very best “Oprah” show. S

Style Weekly Book Editor Francis W. Decker received his M.A. in English Literature from Virginia Commonwealth University. He teaches English at Trinity Episcopal School and writes fiction.

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