From the courtroom to the golf course, the Big Apple to Appalachia, these new books explore America’s splendid diversity.
By John Lescroart, Dutton, $25.95

Truth is, most trials are boring. Courtroom thrillers, on the other hand, are not supposed to be, though many are predictable, wooden, full of stick figures, and humorless in the first degree. To those charges, John Les-croart’s The Hearing proves not guilty on all counts.

It is a lively read, just plausible enough, with engaging characters, an intricate plot, and some cynicism for seasoning.

Dismas Hardy, San Francisco lawyer, is trying to clear one client of murder and defend his buddy, homicide lieutenant Abe Glitsky, on charges of police brutality for the way he handled that client. His enemy is a faux-liberal female DA who, to salvage her career, is seeking the death penalty for Dismas’ client, a white street junkie charged with killing a black woman. The DA plays the race card like Doc Holiday bluffing a stud.

The fun is in the way Lescroart plays with iconic notions — hate crimes, police brutality, homelessness, and so forth — in the San Francisco environment. Not a book for PC readers. — G.N.
By Noah Adams, Delacorte, $23.95

From Li’l Abner to Hee Haw to James Dickey’s Deliverance, Appalachia and its residents have had an image problem: Uncouth and ignorant or downright brutal, “hillbillies” tend backwoods stills and live in shacks propped up by cinder blocks. The author, host of National Public Radio’s gentle and sophisticated All Things Considered, is sort of a hillbilly himself, a native of eastern Kentucky and a descendant of mountain people. Setting out to uncover his family’s Appalachian roots, he hikes, rafts, and flies along the New River as it rises in the highlands of North Carolina, flows north through Virginia, and eventually empties via the Kanawha into the Ohio. He does find a shack or two and, in an antiques store, bits and pieces of an old still. But mostly he encounters history (Daniel Boone trod here), nature, and interesting and generous people doing interesting things — bungee jumpers and country fiddlers, a biologist, retired coal miners, and railroaders.

This is a gorgeous, Huckleberry Finn kind of book, easy and ambling, though without Twain’s biting wit. (Adams can be as serious as, say, public radio.) And though he cannot entirely dispel all those Li’l Abner and Snuffy Smith stereotypes, he does bring them to rich, complex life. —
By Bob McCullough, St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, $24.95

Among their many other remarkable gifts, professional golfers are masters of recall. After a round, they will sit in the press tent and calmly replay every shot for the reporters. “Yeah, I was going good there on the backside until I hit that 5-iron fat on 15.” Some pros can remember flawlessly tournaments they played 20 years ago. Especially if they won.

Bob McCullough’s My Greatest Day in Golf makes wonderful use of this talent, letting some greats of the game go back into the mists to describe that one indelible round. Arnie is here with his greatest charge. And Jack, describing the Masters he won at 46 by shooting an astonishing 30 on the back nine. “Thunderbolt” Tommy Bolt recalls the days when he was “at peace” and winning. Perhaps the most affecting memories are from Lee Elder, who broke the color barrier in golf and modestly remembers being the first black man to play in the Masters.

While many of the greats are here, Tiger is not. Maybe he is too young to handle nostalgia. — G.N.
By Han Ong; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25

Watching a successful con job is like watching good theater: There’s illusion, humor, surprise, ratcheting suspense, and, at the end, a payoff. Who doesn’t in his heart root for the con man, or, even better, for the con man himself to be conned?

Philippines-born William Paulinha, formerly a small-time hustler turning tricks in a bus station, meets Shem C., a failed writer nursing various grievances against New York’s glitterati. To exact some revenge, Shem transforms Paulinha into the mysterious Master Chao, master of Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese art of arranging one’s environment in a harmonious manner to encourage prosperity. Soon, everyone is clamoring for Fixer Chao’s skills — Wall Streeters, gallery owners, poets, the idle rich.

But just as Master Chao is not what he seems, neither is anyone or anything else in this sometimes biting, sometimes bitter little novel about race, class, and privilege in America. The author, a playwright hailed by Vogue and The New Yorker as a powerful new talent, proves that he can pull off a con in print as well as onstage. If occasionally talky, he nonetheless keeps the reader turning pages as the tangle of plots, counterplots, double crosses, and triple crosses unwinds. —

Marvel is a senior features writer for The Dallas Morning News.
Norman is the author of nine novels and several nonfiction books.

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