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Our Loss; Terror on the Seas; Want to know more?

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Our Loss

John Irving's novel, "The Fourth Hand," (Random House, $26.95) is a love story that focuses on the closeness of a love bound by incident and chance. Patrick Wallingford, the novel's main character, is a reporter for a CNN-like news network that specializes in tragedies. At the beginning of the novel Wallingford, who's covering a circus in India, has his left hand bitten off by a lion. Ironically, it is the absence of his hand that allows Wallingford to reach out to others. Wallingford's connection comes in the form of Doris Clausen, an avid fan of the Green Bay Packers and the widow of the recently deceased Otto. The sympathy Doris feels for Wallingford's lost hand motivates her to donate Otto's hand to Wallingford for the world's first successful, although impermanent, hand transplant.

Irving's paradoxical theme of connection through loss is repeated throughout the novel and serves as a guide for his main characters. However, the author is relatively terse when it comes to characterization in "The Fourth Hand," and it is this unfamiliarly clipped style that separates the novel from Irving's previous work. While Irving is able to deliver a touching story, the players don't stay with the reader for very long when the novel is completed. In the end, any John Irving fan will see the disappointing difference in his most recent work and, like Wallingford's hand, have that ghostly sensation that something is missing that was once present. — Francis W. Decker

Terror on the Seas

In the wake of the terrorists attacks the likelihood of a Clyde Cussler scenario actually occurring looms ominously close to reality.

For those who can stomach a violent story this new Clive Cussler novel supplies furious adventure sequences, a main hero capable of emerging from the most extreme situations and legions of nasty villains. Cussler's "Valhalla Rising"(G.P. Putnam's Sons, $27.95) will more than fulfill his faithful audience's insatiable desire for exciting fiction, with the ever-present historical riddle, begging for a plausible solution. In every Dirk Pitt escapade, Mr. Cussler always, as a touch of whimsy, manages to insert himself in the story in some minor capacity.

The novel's central plot begins with the deliberate fire on board a luxury liner, The Emerald Dolphin. Among the 2000 passengers are a prominent scientist, Dr. Elmore Egan and his daughter Kelly. Dr. Egan is working on a secret project which could revolutionize fuel production, and he possesses a strategic formula that sinister forces are trying to obtain.

Dirk Pitt, along with other Navy and Armed Forces personnel, is summoned to rescue Kelly Egan from the burning ship after her father perishes. In the process of protecting Kelly from killers, Dirk Pitt and his inseparable comrade, Al Giordano, run afoul of a global conglomerate, with an agenda to control the world's fuel supply. Aided by a crew of dedicated assassins (appropriately bearing the acronym VIPER), this ruthless band of corporate titans are prepared to instigate wholesale slaughter in their drive for domination.

The author also presents possible historical evidence of a Viking settlement in North America, as well as the existence of a submarine in the late 19th century.

"Valhalla Rising" is a nonstop, death-defying excursion. Dirk Pitt, though physically aging, has lost none of his mental agility and has developed an introspective side. Cussler is able to convincingly balance a variety of different plot lines and tie all ends together in his smooth, comprehensive style. — Bruce R. Simon

Want to know more?

Salon online magazine (www.salon.com) has posted a list of recommended books for those who want to learn more about the Central Asian countries with which we are now so involved. Here are a few of their suggestions:

About Osama bin Laden:

Usama Bin Laden's Al-Quaida: Profile of a Terrorist Network by Yonah Alexander and Michael S. Swetnam (Transnational, 2001)

About: Afghanistan:

"An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan" by Peter Hopkirk (Kodansha, 1992)

About Terrorism:

"The Ultimate Terrorists" by Jessica Stern (Harvard 1999)

About Fundamentalism:

"The Battle for Go" by Karen Armstrong (Knopf 2000)

For many more suggestions visit Salon's Web site. — Rozanne Epps

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