Summer Reading

Words gone wild! The best and the breeziest for beating the heat in 2002

When Talcott Garland, the law professor sleuth behind The Emperor of Ocean Park (Knopf, $26.95), acknowledges that he's depressed on page 152 of this lengthy but engrossing literary thriller, his revelation comes as something of a relief. "To be depressed is to be half in love with disaster," observes our slightly stuffy narrator, who will have to learn how to shelve the depression while plunging into disaster. The sudden, unexplained death of Tal's father -- the imperious and distant Oliver Garland, a famously conservative and controversial black judge who President Reagan nominated to the Supreme Court (a nomination that didn't pass the muster of the Senate) -- has left his son not only emotionally wrecked, but also fighting for his life as various thugs and spies pursue "the arrangements" Tal's father left behind. These are not individuals who kowtow to legal niceties. (The Emperor of Ocean Park may be the only book in recent memory that features one chapter with both a law professor from one of the nation's most respected law schools and two lowlifes whose fingers are removed by a more powerful lowlife.) Tal has no clue what his desperate pursuers are talking about when they seethe and hiss to him about these befuddling "arrangements," but in this riveting and insightful first novel by noted cultural commentator Stephen L. Carter, the search for the arrangements is not only a matter of the narrator's life and death, but his opportunity to redeem a life that seemed defeated and lackluster.

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More by Clay Smith
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