Tichnor & Fields.
288 pages. $19.95. Frederick Busch's 15th work of fiction focuses on Mark Brennan, a middle-aged lawyer with suicidal tendencies. Brennan, narrator of this poetic but opaque novel, experiences flashbacks to periods of physical and emotional abuse. This abuse has left him a "haunted" man unable to distinguish the real from the imagined. In fact, Brennan doesn't believe that he dreams; he believes that his dreams dream him.
As this somewhat convoluted story progresses, Brennan is chosen to act as public defender for Estella Pritchett. Pritchett, a sexy and attractive social worker, has admitted to murdering her lover, Larry. Soon Brennan falls in love with Pritchett and becomes obsessed with her. Blinded by his passion, he tells himself that Larry's death was an accident caused by overly ardent lovemaking.
But Larry's death was not accidental. And as Brennan learns this, he also learns more than he wants about himself. In 1876, Sarah Merritt arrives in Deadwood, in the South Dakota territory, looking for her sister, Addie, who had run away from home five years earlier. Sarah is carrying the message that their beloved father, Isaac, has died. Addie had written Sarah that she was working at Mrs. Hoositer's as an "upstairs girl," which Sarah mistakenly assumes is a maid, not a prostitute.
Being 25 and plain-looking, Sarah views herself as a spinster, but as one of the few women in Deadwood, she turns heads wherever she goes. Sarah decides to stay in Deadwood and try to help her sister. Using her father's printing equipment, Sarah starts a newspaper. That decision leads to a confrontation with Sheriff Noah Campbell and complications and feelings Sarah never dreamed about.
LaVyrle Spencer's "Forgiving" is one of those rare novels that transcend the more trite aspects of the historical-romance genre. The characters and Deadwood are uniformly well-drawn. Sarah is quite believable and appealing. She is not beautiful or brilliant, but a hard-working, dignified Everywoman. Working within the confines of a hostile society, Sarah manages to carve out her own niche while retaining her honor. "Forgiving" is an impressive novel.
T. Jefferson Parker.
364 pages. $18.95.
Since he quit the Newport Beach Police Department, Jim Weir's life has been a series of mistakes and run-ins with the law. After a stint in a Mexican jail, Weir returns to Newport Beach determined to put his life back in order. When he arrives, he is greeted by the news that his sister, Ann, is pregnant. Ann and her husband -- a Newport cop named Raymond -- have been trying to have a child for years. Jim also learns that his politically active mother is a candidate for mayor on a "Slow Growth" platform; her opponent is the police chief. But a few hours after Ann's good news, her body is found on a Newport Beach.
For the Newport Beach PD, the incident with its personal and political ramifications is an explosive situation. Because of his police background, Jim is asked to investigate the murder. Jim expected to find a political reason for the murder, but he did not reckon on an ecological and family slant as well.
Based on his two previous suspense novels, T. Jefferson Parker's work has been compared to the style and scope of Raymond Chandler. "Pacific Beat" will only enhance his reputation; it is an unusual and literate novel. From the first page, it grabs the reader and never lets go.