cover image BET YOUR LIFE


Richard Dooling, . . HarperCollins, $25.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-06-050539-4

Dooling, who was an NBA finalist for his White Man's Grave a few years back, never writes the same kind of book twice, and this time he's produced a sort of techno-noir thriller set within the confines of the insurance business. The reader learns a great deal about insurance scams and the cynicism pervading the industry, and the Omaha setting is piquant for its contrast with the high-living, trendy insurance investigators who are the book's stars, but the book's virtues end there. The plot is extraordinarily convoluted, with villains both expected and unexpected popping up every few pages, and neither Carver Hartnett, the narrator; his alcoholic, pill-popping buddy, Leonard Stillmach, whose mysterious death precipitates the action; nor beautiful but apparently unattainable Miranda Pryor are either appealing or believable. Carver, for instance, plays teenage blow-'em-away computer games with Leonard, Miranda downs gallons of vintage wine while fending off Carver's advances and all are given to sudden pseudo-profound pronouncements. One scene, in which Carver goes after Miranda while spouting chunks of the Abraham and Isaac story from the Bible, only to have her reply in kind, is an over-the-top classic of weirdness. There are nice touches—a low-profile local homicide detective sneering at the high-tech FBI, for instance—but for the most part the book is a stylistically perplexing mess. (Nov.)

Forecast:A blurb from Stephen King may induce readers to give Dooling's latest a chance, but word of mouth won't do the book any favors.