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Home · Articles · News · Books · The Best of Books 2002 - part II
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The Best of Books 2002 - part II

Nancy Sundstrom - January 2nd, 2003
It’s been great fun to take a look back on some of the best books of 2002 - the only true challenge has been in narrowing it down to just ten of my favorite fictional works.
In Part Two of this column, there will be many similarities to the five works previously named for this annual Express honor. The books named here represent debuts as well as the latest from established authors, and cover ground from the great American West of the early 1800s to tony East Coast settings of today where the rich and famous make -- and play -- by their own rules. Again, if you haven’t had a chance to read any of these, consider them before the new works for 2002 are quickly ushered in.

Sin Killer by Larry McMurtry
Even McMurtry’s lesser efforts rarely miss the mark, and in this, the first of a new four-volume series, he’s crafted another epic along the lines of his wildly popular “Lonesome Dove.“
“Sin Killer“ is set largely along the Missouri River in 1832 and has a decidedly comic bent. It is the tale of the rich, aristocratic Berrybender Family from England, who decide to tackle the West, and are tamed themselves, especially their beautiful eldest daughter, Tasmin, who falls in love with Jim Snow, a strong, silent Westerner known for his prowess at both religion and killing Indians (earning him the name “Sin Killer“). In true McMurtry fashion, a colorful cast of characters keep the considerable action moving along, and in the first chapter, we meet the family who gives the story its focus.
This is the sort of untamed, rambunctious, richly-drawn work that only McMurtry can do, in his unique style that manages to be both literature and pop entertainment. At the heart of the story is a marvelous cast of characters, their lives as intertwined and memorable as those who inhabited “Lonesome Dove.“ Based on this first outing, there is much to anticipate in the following three installments.

The Beach House by James Patterson and Peter DeJonge
Patterson is a guilty pleasure for some and a must-read for others, and for this outing, he was joined by “Miracle on the 17th Green“ author de Jonge in a classic summer tale that opens with the death of a good-looking townie on Memorial Day weekend in the Hamptons.
When hero Jack’s brother Peter, a high school dropout who parks cars at private parties in the Hamptons, is found dead, members of a wealthy family insist he drowned, but Jack is quite certain that he was beaten to death. His attempts to uncover the truth about his brother, which leads to shocking revelations about a secret world he was immersed in, one, which Jack discovers, is about the very different worlds of the haves and the have-nots.
As Jack begins to plot revenge, the authors build up a momentum that fairly crackles with tension. You’ll be reading until the wee hours because the end contains a shocking denouement that Patterson will probably have some trouble topping in future works.

How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother by Allison Pearson
This book is a treasure trove of observations about being a working mother that are so spot-on and elicit emotions from laughter to tears within even the space of a few sentences.
But working fathers, grandparents, singles in today’s “never enough time“ world, and lovers of good fiction, in general, should also consider themselves as likely to enjoy this wonderful novel, which was inevitably be compared to “Bridget Jones’ Diary,“ but reads more like something Bridget would have written had she been a little older, smarter, more organized, and a working mother.
Kate, the title character,has no illusions about her ability to “do it all,“ even as she copes with the never-ending to-do lists she keeps that might, on any given day, include everything from “Leg wax no time, shave instead“ to “Cancel stress-busting massage.“ Within the story, Pearson tackles some heady issues affecting women that she and her narrator address through gloriously sharp takes on life. The questions posed provide few answers about how to keep all the balls in the air without going crazy at some point, but that is the point. This is a real gem about real life, so just read, and enjoy.

The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen Carter
Smart, engrossing, tense, and loaded with provocative ideas on a range of subjects from justice to father-son relationships, this book is both satisfying and challenging, and is the fictional debut of Carter, a Yale law professor and distinguished conservative African-American intellectual who has authored seven acclaimed nonfiction books.
It was released to great acclaim, being heralded as a novel of great originality in terms of it being the saga of an African-American family of affluence and privilege who are forced to deal with their crimes and misdemeanors, and has created the same sort of literary excitement that was generated when John Grisham burst onto the scene with “The Firm.“ While that’s an easy comparison to make, “Emperor“ is a far more complex work, rich in social observation and personal insight.
“Emperor“ has all the best ingredients for a juicy legal thriller, with deep, dark family secrets, greed, ambition, intrigue, and betrayal, all played out by attorneys, government officials, powerbrokers, law professors, the FBI, shady underworld figures, chess masters, and various friends and relatives. Carter acquits himself as a masterful storyteller who brings an insider’s perspective too his insights, which are particularly keen on topics like race and power politics.

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
Tartt has held an eager audience of readers at bay for slightly more than a decade since publishing her remarkable, bestselling debut novel, “The Secret History.“ The literary world has been clamoring for her sophomore effort ever since, but Tartt opted to crank out thoughtful and provocative columns, critiques, and essays, while quietly working on “The Little Friend.“
The action is set in the early 1970s in a small Mississippi town, a Faulkneresque landscape whose geographic wounds Tartt seems to know intimately. The central character is 12-year-old Harriet Cleve Dusfresnes, who is growing up in the shadow of her dead brother Robin, who, when she was just a baby, was found murdered and hanging from a tree in their yard.
Much like her other book, “The Little Friend“ deals with the themes of crime and punishment, prejudice and class distinction, ambition and longing, vulnerability and innocence lost, revenge, and the sometimes fragile nature of redemption. Tartt’s intelligence, morally challenging ideas, and compelling, often elegant turns of phrase are more finely detailed than they were in her first outing, which is good news for readers.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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