Fic­tional JFK the­ory beats the real ones

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - By David Pitt

TIn I Don’t Want to Kill You (Tor, 334 pages, $10), by Amer­i­can nov­el­ist Dan Wells, teenage so­ciopath John Wayne Cleaver is hav­ing a tough time of it. Not only is he strug­gling with his own des­tiny — he’s con­vinced he’s fated to be­come a se­rial killer, even though he doesn’t re­ally want to — but he’s also try­ing to fight a mur­der­ous evil that man­i­fests it­self in hu­man form. A bud­ding se­rial killer squar­ing off against a su­per­nat­u­ral se­rial killer, you might say. Like its pre­de­ces­sors, I Am Not a Se­rial Killer and Mr. Mon­ster, this is a very en­ter­tain­ing, very well-writ­ten book. Cleaver, whose name con­jures up both im­ages of se­rial killers (John Wayne Gacy) and of an ide­al­ized Amer­ica in which evil doesn’t ex­ist (the world of Beaver Cleaver), is a lik­able nar­ra­tor, de­spite the dark­ness that is bub­bling to the sur­face.

It’s not, per­haps, for all tastes. If you don’t like books about kids who kill, this might not be for you. If you’re a horror fan, on the other hand, dive right in. If you’re a fan of the TV se­ries Mad Men, you should prob­a­bly check out John Ken­ney’s funny and charm­ing novel Truth in Ad­ver­tis­ing (Touchs­tone, 310 pages, $17). Ken­ney, a vet­eran ad copy­writer who lives in Brook­lyn, tells the story of Fin Dolan, a com­mer­cial writer for a Madi­son Av­enue ad agency, who’s handed an as­sign­ment that’s al­most doomed to fail: a Su­per Bowl com­mer­cial for a new kind of di­a­per. As Fin tries des­per­ately to turn a crappy as­sign­ment into some­thing that isn’t to­tally aw­ful, he is also forced to con­front some bad mem­o­ries from his own past. And, sur­pris­ingly, some­where in the mid­dle of all that he re­dis­cov­ers the things he used to like about him­self. HIS month marks the 50th an­niver­sary of the mur­der of John F. Kennedy. There are hun­dreds of books about the as­sas­si­na­tion, but Mary­land’s Stephen Hunter proves there’s room for one more. In the thriller The Third Bul­let (Pocket Books, 551 pages, $13), for­mer U.S. Ma­rine sniper Bob Lee Swag­ger is ap­proached by a woman who claims her hus­band, a nov­el­ist in­ves­ti­gat­ing the JFK as­sas­si­na­tion, was mur­dered. Bob is re­luc­tant to look into it, un­til a small de­tail in the woman’s story tweaks his in­ter­est… and sends him in search of the real killer of the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent. Hunter, via Swag­ger, takes a bal­lis­tic ap­proach, be­gin­ning with the weaponry (the how, not the who or the why), cre­at­ing a new con­spir­acy the­ory that an­swers a lot of nig­gling lit­tle ques­tions that other the­o­ries over­look or skate over. Hunter’s the­ory is com­pletely fic­tional, of course, but it makes more sense than many the­o­ries that claim to be based in re­al­ity. And if you’re not es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in the JFK mur­der, it’s also a top-notch Swag­ger novel, too, one of the best in the se­ries. Nov­el­ist Ben Blaine is dead. His es­tranged son Adam, a CIA agent, comes home to Martha’s Vine­yard to ex­e­cute the will. When he en­coun­ters some­thing that makes no sense to him — why would his fa­ther dis­in­herit one of his own sons? — Adam starts dig­ging, and un­cov­ers some dark se­crets about his own fam­ily. Fall from Grace (Pocket Books, 367 pages, $11) is a bit of a change of pace for Richard North Pat­ter­son, who’s known mostly for thrillers with po­lit­i­cal over­tones. This novel is more of a straight­for­ward mur­der mys­tery, smaller in scope than many of Pat­ter­son’s ac­tion­ers, with more vividly re­al­ized char­ac­ters and a deeper emo­tional core. The story is set in the au­thor’s own back­yard — Pat­ter­son lives part of the year in Martha’s Vine­yard — and this lends the book a re­al­is­tic, fa­mil­iar feel that is some­times miss­ing from his thrillers. Halifax free­lancer David Pitt’s col­umn runs on the first weekend of the month.

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