cover image Spencerville


Nelson DeMille. Warner Books Inc, $33 (496pp) ISBN 978-0-446-51505-4

Cannily combining some of the emotional appeal of Bridges of Madison County with a riveting cat-and-mouse game between a retired CIA man and a psychotic rural police chief, DeMille's latest novel (after The General's Daughter) has bestseller written all over it. Keith Landry, his Cold War intelligence job a victim of the Soviet collapse, returns to the little Ohio town where he grew up and begins to tinker with thoughts of reviving the family farm. A former sweetheart, Annie, despondent after Keith went off to Vietnam, had married aggressive, good-looking Cliff Baxter on the rebound, but Keith and Annie had never ceased to correspond. Now that he's back, the old interest is rekindled in both, but Baxter, now police chief and a womanizing petty tyrant, is fiercely jealous-and the novel takes off as a deadly struggle between a man trained in the arts of deception and one with all the built-in advantages of police power in a remote spot. In the process, DeMille works in some poignant reflections on the diminishing role of the American heartland and some acute satire at the expense of the Washington power elite; he also manages a nice combination of wryness and passion in his middle-aged lovers. The pacing is expert: there is plenty of time for leisurely scenes, but the narrative tension never flags, and the final third keeps up a crackling drive. There are a few pat and unconvincing moments, and the inclination of DeMille's characters to think aloud is an odd quirk, but no readers, once hooked, are going to complain-or do much else-until they have finished the book. 400,000 first printing; BOMC main selection; major ad/promo; author tour. (Oct.)