Pro­ducer ex­am­ines Hol­ly­wood’s sorry state

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

AS Hol­ly­wood slogs through its worst sum­mer in years, Lynda Obst’s Sleep­less in Hol­ly­wood (Si­mon & Schus­ter, 293 pages, $19) is timely. Obst, a veteran film pro­ducer — she did Sleep­less in Seat­tle, among oth­ers — of­fers a per­cep­tive ex­am­i­na­tion of why Hol­ly­wood per­sists in mak­ing hugely ex­pen­sive movies, mostly se­quels and fran­chises, rather than the smaller, more character-driven films that used to be the norm. Make no mis­take: Obst un­der­stands what’s go­ing on th­ese days, but isn’t happy about it. The book’s big pic­ture: Hol­ly­wood is abandoning character and story in favour of ex­pen­sive, but ul­ti­mately empty, spec­ta­cle. A de­press­ing as­sess­ment, but, given this sum­mer’s dis­mal do­mes­tic box-of­fice per­for­mance, dif­fi­cult to dis­agree with. John Gr­isham’s Sycamore Row (Dell, 642 pages, $12) is set three years after his first novel, 1989’s A Time to Kill, and fea­tures the same lead character, at­tor­ney Jake Bri­g­ance. The book be­gins with a sui­cide: a wealthy man kills him­self after rewrit­ing his will, leav­ing his chil­dren and ex-wives out in the cold and leav­ing nearly all of his con­sid­er­able es­tate to a woman no one knows too much about. Know­ing this would cause some se­ri­ous le­gal wran­gling, the man, in a let­ter mailed the day be­fore he died, asks Jake to han­dle his es­tate. Jake knows it will be a com­pli­cated case, but he has no idea just how com­pli­cated... or how dan­ger­ous. Gr­isham has writ­ten a string of best­selling le­gal thrillers; many read­ers con­sider his de­but to be his best. This is an ex­cel­lent se­quel, and set­ting it only a few years after A Time to Kill, rather than mak­ing it a con­tem­po­rary story, was a stroke of ge­nius. For Gr­isham’s fans, a sure-fire hit. In Bones of the Lost (Pocket Books, 405 pages, $10), by Kathy Re­ichs, foren­sic an­thro­pol­o­gist Tem­per­ance Bren­nan is try­ing to bal­ance her pro­fes­sional and per­sonal lives. A dead girl was found with the ID of a man who died half a year ear­lier; it’s a tan­ta­liz­ing mys­tery, but it’s hard for Tempe to fo­cus — her daugh­ter, dis­traught over the death of her boyfriend, re­cently joined the army. A while back, the Bren­nan nov­els went into a slump, be­com­ing overly for­mu­laic and lack­ing any real spark. This one is a ma­jor re­turn to form, a smartly plot­ted, tightly writ­ten thriller that packs a few good sur­prises and plenty of dra­matic punch. Fans of the long-run­ning se­ries will be de­lighted. Jonathan Maberry’s Dead of Night (2011) was a very good zom­bie novel; its se­quel, Fall of Night (St. Martin’s Grif­fin, 368 pages, $19), is even bet­ter. Maberry picks up the story ex­actly where the ear­lier novel ended. The man-made plague that turned liv­ing hu­man be­ings into mostly-dead preda­tors is spread­ing across Penn­syl­va­nia; po­lice of­fi­cer Des­de­mona Fox and re­porter Billy Trout are desperately try­ing to keep the U.S. gov­ern­ment from wip­ing out the 800 oc­cu­pants of the Steb­bins Lit­tle School; and Billy’s part­ner is about to meet one of the plague vic­tims, a se­rial killer who doesn’t seem to mind hav­ing been turned into the walk­ing dead. Maberry, who also writes the very popular Joe Ledger nov­els, turns in a stel­lar per­for­mance here. There are scenes in the book that are so vis­ceral, so deftly writ­ten, that you’ll get ac­tual chills. The zom­bie genre has ex­ploded lately, and there are plenty of books to choose from. Make sure to choose this one. Hal­i­fax, N.S. free­lancer David Pitt’s col­umn ap­pears the first week­end of

ev­ery month.

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