David Anthony Durham, . . Doubleday, $23.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-385-49925-5

Powerfully written and emotionally devastating, this new novel by Durham (Gabriel's Story) tells the parallel tales of two men in antebellum America: William, a young fugitive slave, and Morrison, a white man hired to track him. William escapes from Maryland and makes his way toward Philadelphia in search of his pregnant wife, Dover. Morrison, an older Scottish immigrant, has lived a hard, violent life he's not proud of, whose dark secrets—such as his responsibility for the death of his brother—slowly emerge as the story unwinds. During his hair-raising flight, William is captured by unscrupulous bounty hunters and threatened with discovery at every turn. He risks his life again and again because "there were regions within him upon which no claim of ownership had hold," and because he wants to find his wife and be a free man. The abominable treatment of slaves is always in the foreground, but Durham never succumbs to sentimentality. In one particularly grueling scene, Morrison learns of the tortures to be inflicted on a black prisoner before he is put to death, and he mercifully ends the man's life. In the thrilling climax, Morrison reveals an unexpected tie that binds him to William and makes a gesture that he hopes will redeem his sins. Durham's writing is forceful and full of startling imagery as he testifies to the courage (and sometimes the ambivalence) of people who, in one way or another, rebelled against the great injustice in American history. (May)

Forecast:Like Durham's well-received debut, his is a tale of quests and the transformations they inspire. Hopefully, those who missed Gabriel's Story will be alerted to this title—which definitively establishes Durham on the literary map—by Doubleday's publicity, which includes national advertising and a national author tour.