Marcus Stevens, Author . Algonquin $24.95 (302p) ISBN 978-1-56512-336-6

A tinted review in adult Forecasts indicates a book that's of exceptional importance to our readers, but hasn't received a starred or boxed review.

THE CURVE OF THE WORLDMarcus Stevens. Algonquin, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 1-56512-336-0

This diverting first novel catches the attention immediately as an American man is cast into sudden danger in the African jungle. Lewis Burke, a Coca-Cola rep flying from Paris to Johannesburg, is aboard a commercial flight that makes a forced landing on an abandoned strip in the Congo. He panics and flees into the jungle when the passengers are threatened by trigger-happy rebels. Predictably, he becomes disoriented, wandering deeper into the tropical forest. Back home, his semi-estranged wife, Helen, has taken Shane, their seven-year-old blind son, with her to Spokane to attend to her aging mother, who has broken her hip. As the narrative alternates between Lewis and Helen, flashback self-recriminating reflections intrude awkwardly into the current action to reveal that their marriage went sour when Helen shifted her priorities to the care of their son. Increasingly terrified about her husband's plight and driven by guilt at their estrangement, Helen decides to fly to Africa with Shane. Meanwhile, Lewis, now befriended by a Congolese boy, wanders aimlessly, narrowly escaping rebels and experiencing feverish dreams of home. The plot is 0verworked, but Stevens displays competent writing and keen human insight. This author, who has traveled widely in Africa, also summon the landscape and atmosphere with vividly descriptive detail, and captures the terror of a man reduced to life's essentials. Agents, David Smith and Silvie Rabineau. $50,000 ad/promo; 8-city author tour; rights optioned by Working Title films.(May 3)

FYI:For more on Stevens, see First Fiction feature in PW, Jan. 28.