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Books in Brief: Libba Bray, Jack Reacher and more


The Diviners by Libba Bray; Little Brown, 578 pages ($19.99) Ages 12 and up.


Libba Bray, winner of the Michael Printz Award for "Going Bovine," launches a new trilogy for Young Adults with this ambitious, beautifully realized and terrifying tale set in New York City in 1926. She vividly evokes the era, the fashion and the music, the city with its speakeasies, its socialist rallies, its numbers runners, its Ziegfield girls. The tale is told through the voices of several young people who have special powers and share similar terrifying dreams: Theta, a chorus girl running from her past; Memphis, who dreams of becoming a poet; and especially Evie O'Neill, a 17-year-old firebrand exiled by her parents from her boring Ohio hometown to live with her Uncle Will, caretaker of the Museum of American Folkore, Superstition and the Occult. Other colorful characters include pickpocket Sam Lloyd, gifted trumpet player Gabe, Will's mysteriously strong museum assistant Jericho and Evie's best friend Mabel, dowdy daughter of two socialists. But an evil has awoken and is loose upon the land. A young factory worker named Ruda is found murdered, her body branded and her eyes missing. The police enlist Will in the hunt for the killer, and Evie uses her special power to assist the investigation. Bray is a marvelous writer, vividly endowing even the most minor characters with memorable life.

Her evocation of the period is done with sensitivity and depth, touching on the racism, the rise of the Klan, budding feminism, and the aftermath of the Great War, as Evie mourns her brother James and has nightmares about his death in battle. Bray also has a sure touch with a horror thriller and she has crafted a most terrifying villain and a thrilling finale, yet left the door open for sequels to go in most interesting directions. (While this is a Young Adult novel, its disturbing theme of the Return of the Beast and the gruesome murders are not for the squeamish.)

- Jean Westmoore


A Wanted Man: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child; Delacorte, 416 pages ($28)


Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher novel offers fans some solace after the vexing news that Tom Cruise will play Child's imposing hero in a film version due out later this year. The casting of Cruise - who stands nowhere near Reacher's 6-foot-5 and doesn't exactly look like a former military police officer who can kill bad guys with his bare hands - angered the purists, who perhaps had a taller, broader, less-movie-star-handsome Reacher in mind.

But now they can set aside the crankiness, at least long enough to read "A Wanted Man." The 17th novel in Child's feverishly thrilling series reminds us that whatever happens on the screen can't affect the pure giddy rush we get reading undiluted Reacher, straight from Child's fertile imagination.

You might think that reading a novel that is essentially one long chase scene would grow exhausting or repetitive, but you'd be wrong. Child keeps the pacing swift and the surprises rolling. Reacher, nursing a broken nose, tries to hitch a ride out of chilly Nebraska with hopes of ending up in Virginia, where there is a woman he very much wants to meet. After 90 long minutes, a car stops for him. Two men in front, a woman in the back. Their agenda is murky, but Reacher quickly realizes something is wrong.

This ride-gone-wrong takes Reacher through the mom-and-pop motels, the open-all-night gas stations and the strangely ominous wide-open spaces of the heartland, which Child renders with precision in calm, spare prose. The plot twists through an alphabet soup of covert agencies and dangerous terrorists, homegrown and from afar.

- McClatchy Newspapers


Frozen Heat by Richard Castle; Hyperion, 320 pages ($26.99)


Richard Castle has become one of the best murder mystery novelists in the business, and that's great for a man who doesn't exist. He's a TV character played by Nathan Fillion on ABC's "Castle."

"Frozen Heat," the fourth novel featuring NYPD homicide detective Nikki Heat, is the best yet. Heat became a cop after the murder of her mother. The case was never solved. When a victim is found stuffed into a suitcase and shoved inside a freezer truck, Heat thinks it will be another routine case. As she begins looking over the evidence, she realizes the suitcase is familiar. It was her mother's and disappeared on the day she was killed. How do the two cases tie together? And will exposing secrets about her mother's past put Heat in danger? Sex, suspense - and laughs - abound.

- Associated Press