From the battles of World War II to those between the sexes, these new books tackle their subject matter head-on.
All Elevations Unknown
By Sam Lightner Jr.
Broadway Books, $24.95

Remote and inhospitable, Borneo’s dark interior is more or less terra incognita: a land of high mountains, dense jungles, poisonous creatures, and unyielding tribes of headhunters. All Elevations Unknown recounts two adventures into this mysterious place, separated by more than half a century. During World War II, a team of British Special Air Service (SAS) troops parachuted into Borneo, formed indigenous forces, and fought the Japanese occupiers long after the surrender in Tokyo Bay.

Led strictly by info gleaned from the SAS mission, a climbing expedition arrives more than half a century later to climb a remote needlelike rock tower. The journey is fraught with illness and hardship, and as the climbers push on, their greatest enemy becomes the filmmakers recording the trek.

While switching back and forth between these not very parallel adventures becomes a little tiresome, the story is held together and ultimately succeeds on the back of this truly formidable and unknown country.

— Geoffrey Norman
The Catsitters
By James Wolcott, HarperCollins, $25

Males with girlfriend troubles instinctively know what to do: Call on another woman for advice. That’s what Johnny Downs — part-time actor, part-time bartender, full-time romantic disaster — does until his friend Darlene takes him on as a kind of project.

Given the setup, we’re probably thinking Johnny will stumble along until the poor dumb fool realizes that the oh-so-helpful Darlene is really the girl for him. But this wise and witty first novel by Vanity Fair’s acerbic literary critic has a nasty turn or two up its sleeve. Darlene’s romantic advice is sound — male readers may want to take notes — but she has an agenda of her own. And it isn’t Johnny.

In the war of the sexes, it seems, males are fated to hand their hearts to the enemy.


misfortune
by nancy geary
warner books, $23.95

prosecutor frances pratt owns a pair of black mutts named felonious and miss demeanor. this is about right for the turf she works — suffolk county, where the money from manhattan goes to relax and behave badly. pratt, who was born in southampton and suffered the usual woes of a privileged childhood, is trying to repair the damage, working as a prosecuting attorney, when her stepmother turns up murdered. the town is full of people who are only too happy that clio is dead.

frances investigates tenaciously, but the real fun of misfortune is in the depiction of life among the rich and aimless. this is nancy geary’s first novel, but since she summers with her family in southampton and graduated from harvard law before working for the massachusetts attorney general’s office, she has a fine feel for the material, and has written a shrewd and entertaining mystery. —
a cry for character
by dary matera
prentice hall press, $24

sometimes it seems that all we get from schools is the bad news: kids with guns and drugs, kids who bully one another and cheat, kids who vandalize and offer lame excuses.

the good news, says this optimistic and useful book, is that kids themselves long for a return to ethical values. moreover, some of them are doing something about it.

in 1995, after the senior class trashed their mundelein, illinois, high school, freshmen and sophomores set out to reclaim their school and its traditions. the author interviews the hell- raisers and the under- classmen who cleaned up the school’s culture, as well as their parents, teachers, and administrators. his lesson is straightforward: if the kids at mundelein high can do it, so can kids in any school. this book tells how. —