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Book roundup

Reviews of novels from Booker Prize winner John Banville, Orange Prize winner Lionel Shriver, and Swedish Crime Writers' Academy Prize winner Håkan Nesser.

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Body of Lies, by David Ignatius (W.W. Norton)

Ignatius's spy novel is at least the third thriller in four years to boast the same title, but in most other respects it's happily original. The body in question is part of an elaborate plot concocted by CIA agent David Ferris. Ferris, a former journalist who nearly lost his leg in Iraq, is determined to stop a spate of suicide bombings riddling Europe, and that means taking out a shadowy figure known as Suleiman. Armchair espionage experts will savor the detail with which Ignatius, himself a former journalist, writes about America's intelligence operations, including the less savory aspects of the war on terror. However, as seems par for the course with this genre, the female characters are underwritten, and the romantic scenes are just painful. Grade: B

Christine Falls, by Benjamin Black (Henry Holt)

Irish pathologist Quirke finds his morgue "cozy" and is more at home with the dead than the living. That assessment is unlikely to change after he finds his brother-in-law, a successful obstetrician, doctoring the file of a dead woman named Christine Falls. As Quirke tries to find out what happened to Christine, he uncovers a transcontinental plot involving shady millionaires, the Catholic Church, and his own relations. John Banville's first foray into crime fiction is a happy one: the genre rules keep the plot whirring along smoothly, and Banville's trademark prose helps illuminate his noir world. I'm not sure why he bothered with a nom de plume, since the melancholy yet elegant "Christine Falls" hardly qualifies as slumming it for the Booker Prize winner. Grade: B+

Petropolis, by Anya Ulinich (Viking)

Since her dad defected to the United States, Sasha Goldberg may be the only biracial Jew living in Asbestos 2, a town in Siberia. The chubby teenager comes of age with a vengeance in Ulinich's funny, fiery debut novel. At 14, Sasha attends art school, falls in love with a boy living in a cement pipe, and gets pregnant. (Her mother raises the baby, determined that Sasha continue her education.) By 16, she's headed for Phoenix as a mail-order bride. By 18, she's living as a "pet Soviet Jew" in the home of a Chicago family and is determined to find the father who abandoned her. "Petropolis," which takes its title from a poem by Osip Mandelstam, stutters a little as Ulinich jumps through time, but it's as bursting with life as its unforgettable heroine. Grade: A–

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