Saturday, January 04, 2003

This list is an annual keeper.,0,2337725.story?coll=sfla%2Dfeatures%2Dbooks
The year's best, from veterans and newcomers
By Oline H. Cogdill

December 22, 2002

In his Washington, D.C.-based thrillers, George Pelecanos combines the social historian's eye for detail with the entertainment of a good mystery. Hell to Pay continues to plot the progress and decline of a multiracial, multicultural capital city, where people in the shadow of Congress live on the grinding edge of poverty, crime and social disenfranchizement.

Seven years ago, Pelecanos was considered a cult figure, author of gritty mysteries such as King Suckerman and The Big Blowdown. Now his cinematic writing also has put him in the mainstream. His skillful novels rival those of literary authors like Richard Price.

In his 10th book, Hell to Pay, Pelecanos pulls together a taut story driven by two cops-turned-private detectives. Derek Strange is a black man in his 50s, wrestling with the city's demons as well as his own, while Terry Quinn is a white man in his 30s with a propensity for violence.

Hell to Pay easily takes the spot for best mystery of 2002, but in a better world it would be considered for both mystery and mainstream prizes.

The most compelling mysteries are those in which the story keeps a hold on the reader long after the plot has been resolved. The following is the best that mystery fiction offered in 2002.

1) Hell to Pay. George Pelecanos. Little, Brown. $24.95. 353 pp. Pulling together a cohesive, taut story that echoes Richard Price's Clockers, Hell to Pay is a look at an inner-city society driven by characters who are under siege from the drugs and violence that have infiltrated their world.

2) City of Bones. Michael Connelly. Little, Brown. $25.95. 393 pp. 2002 could have been considered the year of the Connelly with two thrillers -- City of Bones and the high-tech world of Chasing the Dime -- plus an average Clint Eastwood movie based on Connelly's Blood Work. But City of Bones, in which Harry Bosch investigates a 20-year-old murder, is his year's standout as Connelly solidly blends the details of a police procedural with the character study of a man on the edge and his city of L.A.

3) Nine. Jan Burke. Simon & Schuster. $24. 369 pp. Nine is nearly a perfect 10 as Jan Burke, best known for her Irene Kelly mysteries, delivers a multilayered stand-alone thriller about a group of spoiled rich kids who turn vigilante to target the FBI's most-wanted list.

4) The Last Place. Laura Lippman. Morrow. $23.95. 341 pp. The Baltimore-based author continues to push the edges of the traditional private eye novel as she takes an unconventional look at the anger and maliciousness behind domestic violence.

5) Gone for Good. Harlan Coben. Delacorte. $23.95. 342 pp. Few suspense writers are as solid as Harlan Coben as he delivers an unstoppable whirlwind that hinges on deception, revenge and identity. In Gone for Good, a man struggles with the knowledge that his brother is a murderer.

6) Kisscut. Karin Slaughter. Morrow. $24.95. 352 pp. Engaging, likable characters in small-town Georgia balance chilling terror as the author unflinchingly looks at the beginnings of violence and how sometimes predators live too close to their victims.

7) Winter and Night. S.J. Rozan. St. Martin's/Minotaur. $24.95. 338 pp. Much has been written and debated about the tragedy of school violence, and what makes students kill. Using a well-plotted private eye mystery, S.J. Rozan compassionately delves into a town's mindset that makes one set of students royalty, saps the self-esteem of others and makes revenge the goal of still others.

8) The Killing Kind. John Connolly. Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. $25. 376 pp. Irish author John Connolly masters the totally American private-eye novel in this pitch-perfect noir vision with undertones of the supernatural. Mournful ex-cop Charlie Parker battles religious fanaticism as he investigates the death of a young grad student in the dark crevices of Maine.

9) Acid Row. Minette Walters. Putnam. $24.95. 339 pp. During 24 hours in an English housing project, a riot, fueled by rumors, ignorance, hate and a few drug-crazed teens escalates into a war. Out of the rubble, the unlikeliest of heroes and villains will emerge; the frailest elderly will show their inner strength. Shaped as an in-depth Sunday magazine piece, this journalistic approach lets us see the entire situation, and then zooms in for a close-up, as we become one with the story.

10) Blood on the Tongue. Stephen Booth. Scribner. $24. 400 pp. Set in England's Peak District, Booth mixes the British police procedural with the conventions of a historical to produce a solid psychological suspense tale in which an investigation of a new murder intersects with a mysterious WWII crash. Booth takes a decidedly hard-boiled approach that he then tempers with all-encompassing character studies rather than violence.

11) Bad Boy Brawly Brown. Walter Mosley. Little, Brown. $24.95. 320 pp. Walter Mosley made the year Easy. It's been six years since Mosley wrote about the reluctant detective Easy Rawlins, but his return is a smooth transition. Here, revolution's in the air as Easy searches for a young man who may have been caught up in an underground civil rights group.

12) Blackwater Sound. James W. Hall. St. Martin's Press/ Minotaur. $24.95. 339 pp. Man's manipulation of -- and often careless disregard for -- nature has long been a favorite theme of South Florida author James W. Hall. In his 11th novel, Hall combines a retelling of Moby-Dick with a dash of The Old Man and the Sea into a superior thriller while bringing together two of the author's most popular characters to battle a ruthless and secretive family out for destruction.

13) No Good Deed. Manda Scott. Bantam. $22.95. 304 pp. British author Manda Scott immediately plunges the reader into a harrowing world of deep undercover police detectives whose assignment to ferret out one of Glasgow's vicious crime lords hinges on a frightened 9-year-old boy. Unflinching in its exploration of cops and criminals, No Good Deed's dark tale still offers a glimmer of hope for its characters.

14) Black Jack Point. Jeff Abbott. Onyx. $6.99. 400 pp; and A Killing Sky. Andy Straka. Signet. $5.99. 288 pp. Many paperback originals are up to the standards of hardcover novels. Greed, family secrets, ruthless treasure hunters and centuries-old pirates, and a compelling look at the historical legends of Texas' Gulf Coast intertwine in Black Jack Point. An ex-cop's passion for falconry is the springboard that makes A Killing Sky soar with three-dimensional characters and a plausible story.

15) Dead Midnight. Marcia Muller. Mysterious Press. $24.95. 289 pp. Before Sue Grafton or Sara Paresky, Marcia Muller created a successful female private detective. In her 21st novel, Muller looks at the demise of the dot-com industry as she investigates the alleged suicide of a young Internet journalist.


Sleepyhead. Mark Billingham. Morrow. $24.95. 320 pp. It's no joke that Mark Billingham -- who's well-known in his native England as a stand-up comedian and television writer -- debuts with a dark, intense thriller that funnels its solid plot through a contemporary nightmare.

The Devil's Redhead. David Corbett. Ballantine Books. $24.95. 373 pp. A hard-boiled, gritty mystery set against the background of California's early 1990s drug wars and organized crime, The Devil's Redhead is essentially a love story about two ex-cons willing to risk everything.

The Blue Edge of Midnight. Jonathon King. Dutton. $22.95. 260 pp. Sun-Sentinel reporter Jonathon King melds an evocative look at Florida history with a contemporary, fresh view of South Florida -- from Palm Beach to Miami-Dade counties -- in this hard-boiled tale of an ex-cop seeking redemption in the Everglades.

Surface Tension. Christine Kling. Ballantine. $23.95. 304 pp. Christine Kling travels Fort Lauderdale's waterways with a strong, no-nonsense female tugboat captain. Confidently dipping into Travis McGee territory, the author creates realistic people who comprise the multifaceted boating community and offers a showcase of South Florida.

The Edge of Justice. Clinton McKinzie. Delacorte Press. $21.95. 326 pp. Clinton McKinzie takes us to the mountaintop and dangles us over the precipice with good plotting and realistic characters. The author makes the most of his breathtaking knowledge of mountain climbing as his flawed and quite appealing hero looks into the death of a young woman killed while mountain climbing.

Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at or 954-356-4886.

Copyright © 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Friday, January 03, 2003

Ever want to know what it's really like for an author being on tour? Check out these two journals:

Leif Enger

Jennifer Weiner

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Libraries Across U.S. Are Scaling Back
Mon Dec 30, 1:37 PM ET Add U.S. National - AP to My Yahoo!

By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer

Seattle's libraries were forced to close for two weeks. Denver doubled its late fees. And Sunday book browsing is out in Erie, Pa.

Libraries across the country are cutting staff and services because of a budget crunch. Librarians say one of the most disturbing things is that the cutbacks are occurring at a time when an increasing number of people need libraries to help them find jobs.

"As the economic times get worse, library use has gone up," said Maurice J. Freedman, president of the American Library Association. "The injustice of it is, here we are providing more service with the same staff, and we're asked to cut our budgets."

Children's and school librarians are being laid off, weekend hours are being cut and new book buying is out of the question.

The problem stems from tight state and local budgets. When cuts need to be made, libraries are hard-pressed to compete against, say, fire and police protection.

In Pennsylvania, Erie's main library will close on Sundays starting in January. Further cuts are expected.

"We're just grinding our teeth over this," library coordinator Mary Rennie said. "Sunday afternoon was a great time for families to come down together."

Late fees at the Denver Public Library double to 20 cents a day in 2003 to help cover a $410,000 budget cut.

Librarians say that in addition to job seekers, the cuts are hurting students as well as homeless people who spend their days in the library.

Library patron Dennis Hunter, 46, who lives outside of Erie, said that if libraries cut back, he can still get onto the Internet. "But a lot of people just don't have the resources to make do," he said.

Elsewhere around the country:

_The Public Library of Cincinnati planned to close five branches in 2003, but after a public outcry decided to reduce staff and services.

_New York City, starting in October, reduced service at 67 of its 85 branches to five days a week, from mostly six; its 2003 budget was cut $16.2 million, or 14 percent, spokeswoman Nancy Donner said. The cuts came despite a 7 percent rise in attendance since September 2001.

"The annual attendance of 40 million at the city's library system is higher than that of all the city's cultural institutions and professional sports teams combined," Donner said.

_In suburban Detroit, the Berkley Public Library plans to cut hours and lay off its children's librarian, a 14-year veteran. "In 20 years I've never had to cut library hours," said director Celia Morse said. "To cut them twice in one year is particularly painful."

_Seattle shuttered its libraries for a week in August and December and will do so again in 2003, spokeswoman Andra Addison said. The budget has been cut $7 million in the last two years. Library workers voted for the closings and are going without pay during the shutdowns to avert job cuts.

"I don't think people understand what libraries do, and their value to a city's economic and cultural health," Addison said. "In a down economy, this is when people use books more."

An American Library Association-sponsored study released this year found that circulation at 18 of the country's largest libraries was up about 8 percent in 2001 over the average of the four previous years.

Freedman, the ALA president, said libraries' funding problems stem from a lack of political clout. At its annual meeting in January in Philadelphia, the ALA will launch a campaign to raise funds and awareness.

"We have to get a message across," Freedman said.


On the Net:

American Library Association:

Pennsylvania Library Association:

A Notion of Really Rogue Nations
Web 'Game' Allows Players to Create and Run Virtual Countries

By Noah Goldman

Dec. 30
— Imagine a nation where college students make ends meet by selling their kidneys, the government is avowedly atheist, euthanasia is illegal, and all tariffs have been abolished.

Sound like a throwback to the bleak days of hard-line dictatorships of the Eastern Europe's Iron Curtain? Or perhaps the return of a despotic-ruled Cambodia?
No, this describes the present-day regime of the ever-formidable Empire of Mediocrity.

What? Never heard of it?

The Empire is part of the biggest online game you never heard of — yet. It is called NationStates, a free Web-based game that allows anyone to build and run their own virtual country.

Max Barry, a 29-year old Australian novelist, says he came up with the idea of after filling out an online quiz designed to gauge a person's political philosophy.

"So many people have so many views as to what that best form of government is and they are absolutely convinced that theirs is the best way," Barry states. "NationStates allows them to see how their ideologies might play out."

And the types of online nations, housed in an online world of 12,000 "regions," truly run the gamut.

Consider some of Barry's favorites, such as The Principality of Twenty Nine, whose credo reads "Peace through superior firepower." Or perhaps, The Dictatorship of Angry PoliSci Majors whose motto says, "We're all going to be unemployed."

Other nations include the Holy Empire of Half-Naked Chicks and the United States of Bushism, a jibe at the verbal flubs made by the real president of the United States.

Free to Rule As You See Fit

NationStates can be described as a mix between the popular online family simulation, The Sims, and the classic board game Risk, the game of global domination.

Within minutes, anyone can set up their own "nationstate" by answering just a few simple questions in three subject areas: economy, civil rights and political freedoms. The result is one's very own virtual country, tailor-made to fit one's own personal political preferences.

Players also designate the national animal, the currency and the official motto of their land. But the fun does not stop there.

Once a nation is established, players will be presented with various issues, ranging from allowing Nazi protestors to march to feeding the hungry. Users can take stances on issues or ignore them all together.

Each action, or non-action, affects the prosperity of the player's nation and sometimes produce unforeseen side-effects. For instance, granting greater political freedom will lead to more civil unrest.

"There is no way to win and no way to lose," says Barry.

Alternate Realities

But the game has certainly proved to be a "winner" for Barry, who initially planned the site as an adjunct to his soon-to-be-published novel, Jennifer Government.

In the satirical tale of an "alternate present," practically the entire world is completely capitalistic. Everything is publicly traded. People take their last names for the corporations they work for and the police will only investigate crimes for which they can directly bill.

The book's epomymous lead character is a government agent, looking to nab a low-level Nike employee, Hack, who has been tricked into signing a contract that is really a Mob-like "hit" order. The order requires Hack to kill people who purchase Nike's newest model of shoes in order to build notoriety for the company.

Power Play?

The game, however, received no formal promotion from Barry's publisher, Doubleday. The Web site's launch consisted of merely an e-mail to twenty of Barry's friends. But word quickly spread from there.

"People started linking the site on their 'blogs , their web logs," says Barry. "And they would talk about their nation and how it was doing." About 1,000 virtual nations sprang up within two weeks — well ahead of the book's Jan 21. release date. And the roll of virtual nations grows scores almost by the hour. The tally now surpasses 20,700 nations, not counting the 1,500 or so countries that have been deleted due to inactivity.

Barry says he is surprised by the response the site has received. He adds that the game has served as a sounding board for many different ideas. "I am a big believer in free speech," Barry mentions. "That this has developed into a forum for something political is great."

Equally fantastic for Barry: The book has recently been optioned to be adapted for the big screen by George Clooney and Steven Soderberg's Section 8 film company.

Barry has already started thinking about whom he would like to play the lead. "Maybe Sandra Bullock," he says.

Copyright © 2002 ABC News Internet Ventures.

Sunday, December 29, 2002

December 29, 2002
Who Owns the Internet? You and i Do

SOMETHING will be missing when Joseph Turow's book about families and the Internet is published by M.I.T. Press next spring: The capital I that usually begins the word "Internet."

Mr. Turow, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, studies how people use online technology and how that affects their lives. He has begun a small crusade to de-capitalize Internet — and, by extension, to acknowledge a deep shift in the way that we think about the online world.

"I think what it means is it's part of the everyday universe," he said.

Capitalization irked him because, he said, it seemed to imply that reaching into the vast, interconnected ether was a brand-name experience.

"The capitalization of things seems to place an inordinate, almost private emphasis on something," he said, turning it into a Kleenex or a Frigidaire. "The Internet, at least philosophically, should not be owned by anyone," he said, calling it "part of the neural universe of life."

But, he said, dropping the big I would sent a deeper message to the world: The revolution is over, and the Net won. It's part of everyone's life, and as common as air and water (neither of which starts with a capital).

Some elements of the online world have already made the transition. Internet often appears with a lowercase I on the Internet itself — but then, spelling online is dreadful, u kno.

Although most everybody still capitalizes World Wide Web, words like "website," and the online journals known as weblogs (or, simply, blogs) are increasingly lowercase. Of course, the Internet's capital I is virtually engraved in stone, since Microsoft Word automatically capitalizes the lowercase "i" unless a user overrides its settings.

For Mr. Turow, the first step in his campaign was persuading his book editor to enlist. She compromised, dropping to lowercase in newly written parts and retaining the capital in older articles reproduced in the book.

Then he nudged Steven Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and president of the Association of Internet Researchers. Mr. Jones was cool to the idea, until he looked at copies of Scientific American from the late 19th century, and noticed that words for new technologies, like Phonograph, were often uppercased.

Today, Mr. Jones is a crusader himself.

"I think the moment is right," he said, to treat the Internet "the way we refer to television, radio and the telephone."

He shared his view with a few hundred close friends last month at a meeting of the National Communication Association, an educators' group. "I just noticed everybody's attention kind of snapped forward," he said.

"I'm used to having people say nice things," he said. "We're scholars, not wrestlers. But this time I was struck by the number of people who were saying the equivalent of, `Right on!' "

DICTIONARY editors, though, have dismissed Mr. Turow politely but firmly.

Dictionaries do not generally see themselves as making the rules, said Jesse Sheidlower, who runs the American offices of the Oxford English Dictionary.

"What dictionaries do is reflect what's out there," he said. He and his fellow dictionary editors would think seriously about such changes after newspapers make them, he added.

That could take a while. Allan M. Siegal, a co-author of The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage and an assistant managing editor at the newspaper, said that "there is some virtue in the theory" that Internet is becoming a generic term, "and it would not be surprising to see the lowercase usage eclipse the uppercase within a few years."

He said, however, that the newspaper was unlikely to make any change that was not supported by authoritative dictionaries.

Time to ask Robert Kahn, who is as responsible as anyone for the creation of the Internet, having helped plan the original network that preceded it and having created, with Vinton Cerf, the language of computer networks, known as TCP/IP, that allowed the vast knitting-together of systems that gave birth to the modern medium.

He cares deeply about the name, having led a fight for years to ensure that its use is not restricted or abused by the corporation that received the trademark in 1989.

A settlement was reached two years ago with the company now known as Concord EFS. The company agreed that it would not dun people who used the word, which meant that "Internet" now belongs to everybody, Mr. Kahn said.

"We defended the right of people to use the word `Internet' for what we think of as the Internet," he said.

THAT was the important fight, according to Mr. Kahn. "Whether you use a cap I or little I" hardly matters, he said.

Which leads us back to a profound question for Mr. Turow: Don't you have anything better to do?

"That's a really interesting question," he said. "I was an English major. I'm very sensitive to the nuances of words, and I'm very concerned about the nuances, the feel that words have within the society."

Fair enough; Perhaps the next big thing, after all, will be small. At least initially.

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