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Books in brief

>CHILDREN'S

Alexander Hamilton, the Outsider by Jean Fritz; Putnam, 132 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 and up.

The award-winning author of many biographies for young people turns her attention to the fascinating story of Alexander Hamilton, from his birth out of wedlock in the British West Indies, his move to New York where his sympathies were engaged by the Patriots, his pivotal role as an aide to Gen. Washington to his death at 49 in a duel with Aaron Burr. Even in its abbreviated form (only 132 pages), the biography covers the important points, offering a vivid front-row seat on several Revolutionary War battles and the struggles of a young nation, with Hamilton serving as the first secretary of the Treasury and a supporter of a central government against states' rights. Young readers may especially be interested in the details of Hamilton's teen years when he excelled as a student, teaching himself French and reading the works of French philosophers and gaining admission to the College of New Jersey (the future Princeton). -- Jean Westmoore

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>SUSPENSE

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore; Twelve, 368 pages ($24.99)

Ever since Sherlock Holmes emerged out of the imagination of Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, the brilliant London-based "consulting detective" has never gone out of style. But Doyle grew sick of his hero. When he tried to "kill" Holmes by pitching him over Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland in 1893, Doyle was vilified.

The fascination with Holmes then and now makes for the subject of a clever debut for Moore, a 28-year-old expert in religious history. Switching between two centuries, "The Sherlockian" works as an insightful look at the rise of celebrities, extreme fans and a character who continues to be bigger than life as well as a testament to the power of storytelling.

In 1893, Doyle longed to be remembered for writing "real literature." He's tired of receiving letters addressed to Holmes, of strangers seeking the great detective's help. But he's unprepared for the outcry when he supposedly kills his character.

In 2010, introverted Harold White has been admitted into the prestigious Baker Street Irregulars during their New York banquet. The highlight of the dinner is to be the unveiling of Doyle's lost diary -- until the scholar who supposedly has the book is murdered. The game's afoot, and the shadow of what would Holmes do hangs heavily over both Doyle and White. Doyle sets out to solve a series of murders of young women. White is hired by Doyle's great-grandson to solve the scholar's murder and retrieve the diary.

Moore deftly alternates between two heroes working in two time periods on two continents. Doyle would be proud of Moore's ingenious novel.

-- McClatchy Newspapers

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>HORROR

What the Night Knows by Dean Koontz; Bantam, 464 pages ($28)

Dean Koontz is back in fine form with "What the Night Knows."

Over two decades ago, a madman stalked families, and his horrific crimes terrified the citizenry until he picked the wrong house. Teenager John Calvino came home unexpectedly and killed the intruder, who threatened to come back from the grave.

More than 20 years later, Calvino is a homicide detective with a family. The murders are happening again, and Calvino realizes that he and his family are in danger. The idea of a ghost coming back to wreak vengeance isn't new, but Koontz puts a spin on it that makes "What the Night Knows" compelling, terrifying and fresh.

-- Associated Press

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>NONFICTION

A Rope and a Prayer: A Kidnapping From Two Sides by David Rohde and Kristen Mulvihill; Viking, 362 pages ($26.95)

"A Rope and a Prayer" is not the book Rohde set out to write when he traveled to Afghanistan in 2008 on leave from the New York Times. His plan was to write a book that would open America's eyes to its long Afghan war gone bad. Convinced he needed a face-to-face interview with a Taliban leader, Rohde arranged a meeting with "Abu Tayyeb," purported to be a commander of fighters outside Kabul. Instead, Abu Tayyeb took him hostage, delivering him to the feared Haqqani fighters in the tribal badlands of Pakistan. During his seven months in captivity, Rohde got a much-too-close look at the operations and the mind-set of the Haqqanis and their Taliban allies.

This is a harrowing read. Rohde is a very good reporter, and he emerges from captivity not only having shown the courage to not crack and the wherewithal to escape but the recall to describe the details of his experience. His work exposes a Taliban with clear motivation -- the expulsion of Western forces from Muslim lands -- as well as a hatred for the alliance between the West and the corrupt Karzai government.

Escape-from-captivity books have a long tradition. What gives Rohde's book a 21st century twist on the genre is the way it links his plight to the struggle by his recent bride, Kristen Mulvihill, a New York-based Cosmopolitan magazine photo editor to free him. The narrative is divided between their experiences of the kidnapping, separated by thousands of miles.

Mulvihill is not a strong writer, but over time, her side of the story becomes compelling and revealing. She is clearly very brave, a fast learner and tough enough to not be pushed around by the FBI, private contractors hired for advice on kidnap negotiations or the pushy editors of the New York Times with their different agendas. -- Los Angeles Times

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