Elmore Leonard, . . Morrow, $25.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-06-000872-7

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

TISHOMINGO BLUESElmore Leonard. Morrow, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 0-06-000872-5

On the advance reading copy of this novel sent to PW, the title appears in blue letters half an inch high. Leonard's name floats above the title in red letters a full inch high. A Leonard novel is an event, and for good reason. Over the past 40 years, this writer has evolved into the undisputed champ of the American crime novel, and he hasn't lost a step. His new (and 37th) novel is one of his smoothest, a return to the South of Out of Sight (1996) and numerous earlier Leonards—though this is the author's first foray into deep country Mississippi, birthplace of the blues. Men and women who scrape at the margins of the American dream are Leonard's forte, and here he presents several such folk, all memorable, beginning with his hero, Dennis Lenahan, a high diver who contracts for a gig to perform at the Tishomingo Lodge & Casino. While setting up his rig, Dennis witnesses a murder by local members of the Dixie Mafia. So, perhaps, does a mysterious, very slick black guy, Robert Johnson, down from the North in his Jag to run a con on a local powerbroker—or so it seems. But Robert, who befriends Dennis, and the Detroit mobster and moll who join him at the Lodge & Casino, have other, more complicated, more ambitious plans, for Tishomingo, for the Dixie Mafia and for Dennis, plans that come to a head during the Civil War battle re-enactment that provides the unusual and fascinating backdrop for the book's second half. As usual, Leonard's characters walk onto the page as real as sunlight and shadow; the dialogue is dead-on, the loopy story line strewn with the unexpected, including sudden flourishes of romance and death. Prime Leonard, prime reading. (Feb. 1)

Forecast:Backed by a $250,000 marketing campaign and Leonard's ever-soaring rep, this title, his first with Morrow, could be his biggest seller yet, buoyed by a seven-city author tour and simultaneous HarperAudio (abridged and unabridged cassette) and HarperLarge Print editions.