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The oppositional notions of good and bad are thrown out the window in this story of blackmail. Two drug-addicted killers, Tony and Mac, use a Polaroid of George W. Bush in a compromising position in an attempt to blackmail the Republican Party. The photo is soon stolen by Tina, who has recently poisoned her husband, and Manny, a crooked cop whose drug addiction has led him to a less than pristine lifestyle. As Tina and Manny run from their deadly competitors, all common sense as well as morality goes completely out the window. Unfortunately, Stahl's characters, intriguing on the surface, lack the depth to make the novel a complete success. While provocative, "Plainclothes Naked" is like the terrible television shows that many people find so fascinating: tragic but utterly, and ironically, forgettable. — Francis W. Decker

And Emotionally Overdrawn

In this, his first novel, Kevin Wignall gives us an absorbing tale of espionage. "People Die" (Simon & Schuster, $22.00) tells the story of J.J., a freelance hit man bound to no political factions. J.J. possesses the cool detachment his work demands, not caring who wants a job done or why. To his dismay, this detachment bleeds into his personal life, leaving him adrift with no social or moral foundation.

When in Paris, J.J. drops in on his primary job contact and discovers that he has been murdered. Inquiries lead him to the unexpected conclusion that there is a contract on his own life. Returning to his home in Geneva, J.J. finds out that his girlfriend has also been killed and begins to confront his emotional shortcomings when he does not mourn her death. Throughout the novel Wignall gives the reader plenty of engaging action as J.J. attempts to discover which of his professional contacts he can trust and which he must kill. J.J. is further tested emotionally when he must take refuge with the family of one of his victims and witness firsthand the consequences of his work.

When all is said and done Wignall's first effort is a good read and very well paced. His characters are a bit thin, however, and the main character never reaches a credible resolution of his emotional dilemma. The story's climax also deserved more tension than it received. Still, it's safe to say that we can look forward to better offerings from this young writer in the future. — D. Scott Hicks

Heads Up

On May 16 at 7 p.m. local novelist and VCU writing professor Tom De Haven will be discussing and signing copies of his latest book "Dugan Underground" at the Richmond Public Library's Gellman Room. De Haven will be appearing as part of the library's "Richmond Writers" program. For more information call 646-4514.

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