cover image Killer's Wake

Killer's Wake

Bernard Cornwell. Putnam Publishing Group, $19.95 (317pp) ISBN 978-0-399-13458-6

Occasionally tripped up by tangled nautical jargon, Cornwell ( Wildtrack ) nevertheless delivers a pretty fair yarn. John Rossendale, 28th Earl of Stowey, is a 30-ish semi-rebel who has escaped his nasty, impoverished family by bumming around the world in his sailboat Sunflower . He returns to England in time to receive a maternal death-bed curse and then, before he can get away again, is embroiled in a search for the ``Stowey Van Gogh.'' Stolen years ago (John was a suspect), the lost family heirloom is lusted after by a mega-rich tycoon. To provide for his only nice sibling, the retarded Georgina, Rossendale agrees to help find the Van Gogh, which is being held for ransom, and to give it to the tycoon. Rossendale also succumbs to the charms of the tycoon's step-daughter (herself a contessa) and thinks about settling down. But first there's a mystery to solve and perils to face, culminating in a foggy duel in dangerous Channel waters. The narrator-hero is a bit precious (``Call me John,'' his lordship says, often) but his story is an amusing read. (Aug.)