cover image The List

The List

Steve Martini. Putnam, $24.95 (438pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14261-1

The title refers to the New York Times bestseller list, which 40-ish Seattle lawyer and literary novelist Abby Chandlis hopes to climb with her own to-die-for commercial novel. Abby's experience with three previous novels that ""died on the shelves,"" however, has made her distrust publishers. She believes that her new book will get the recognition and money it deserves only if it's associated with a devastatingly handsome male face. So she's marketing it under the pseudonym of ""Gable Cooper"" and winds up striking a deal with Jack Jermaine, the shadowy elder son of a South Carolina military family, to pose as the hunky writer. Abby quickly finds that this kind of barely legal deceit has nasty side effects. Her home is trashed and her best friend, Theresa, is electrocuted by a rigged fuse box. Theresa's ex, a violent drunk, turns up underwater, while Abby's own ex, a weasely lawyer, comes sniffing, lured by the scent of Abby's money. Jermaine's handsome, ""dangerous"" looks and demeanor, meanwhile, drive up the price of the book and its sequel into the mid-six figures. In the heat of success, Abby and Jack's business arrangement turns to romance, but there are facts Abby doesn't know about her new partnership that could get her killed. Martini (The Judge) clearly had a good time writing this fanciful book, in which he manages to incorporate multiple settings, invent gossamer disguises for important publishing personalities and skewer the machinery that produces blockbuster books. The fiery finish and final revelations put Martini's new novel squarely in the commercial territory tracked by ""the list""-never mind the ironies of the book being a likely blockbuster in its own right. 400,000 first printing; $350,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club and Mystery Guild main selections. (Feb.)