If You Read Only 10 Trashy Novels This Summer

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Relax. It's summer. At the beach or pool, nobody judges you for reading a book with Fabio on the cover. Probably nobody even noticed that unread copy of The Corrections that's holding down a corner of your towel. If anything, you're being judged for that poochy little tummy you picked up last winter. Kidding.

Summer has a strange effect on the reading mind. Gone is any concern with literary respectability. Shed, any inhibitions about raw escapism. You get back in touch with the tiny Philistine who lives in your lazy, pleasure-loving little heart. Why fight it? We took a look at this summer's guilty pleasures and picked out the most delicious we could find. Go ahead. You've been good. Have a summer fling with an unsuitable book.

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Jan. 17, 2004

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By Charles McCarry

GENRE Stone-cold spy thriller

THE SETUP Paul Christopher, oldest of the old-school Beltway spooks, is missing. The Chinese claim he's dead; they've even returned his ashes in a ceremonial vase. But his buddies, a supergroup of six retired cold war intelligence agents, aren't buying it, and they form an unofficial task force to find out what really happened. In play are an Arab terrorist — also possibly deceased — Christopher's long-lost mother — ditto — and the Amphora Scroll, an ancient document that could prove that Jesus was a tool of a Roman intelligence agency. Cool. At 74, McCarry is an old boy himself, but his hands are still as steady as a safecracker's. There is no better American spy novelist.

FREE SAMPLE "With trembling hand, I took a large mouthful of cognac, leaned forward, and spat it in Hawk's eyes."

IT'S LIKE The best parts of 10 John le Carre novels all put together.

By Carl Hiaasen

GENRE Comic suspense? Suspense comedy? Let's just say it's a Carl Hiaasen novel.

THE SETUP Joey Perrone married a jerk. Said jerk, a corrupt wetlands biologist by the name of Chaz, takes her on a luxury cruise that was supposed to bring the sparkle back to their marriage. Instead, he pushes her overboard two miles off the coast of Florida. But unbeknown to Chaz, Joey survives, deeply annoyed yet otherwise unscathed, and she dedicates her life to messing with Chaz's head from beyond the grave.

FREE SAMPLE "I had a feeling he didn't love me anymore, she thought, but this is ridiculous."

IT'S LIKE As we said, it's Hiaasen. That is, not really like anything else out there.

By Sue Grafton

GENRE Mystery

THE SETUP Grafton started this series with A Is for Alibi, and she's working her way through the alphabet, but you should feel free to jump in anytime. Our hero is Kinsey Millhone, a lonely, smart-mouthed thirtysomething who's also a private detective in Santa Teresa, Calif. One day she gets a call from Nord Lafferty, a local zillionaire with daughter trouble: spoiled, sexy Reba Lafferty is fresh out of the pokey (embezzling) and falling back into some of her old habits. (The setup is nicely reminiscent of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep.) Guess who gets to baby-sit Reba?

FREE SAMPLE "I should have gone in to work. The Universe keeps track of our sins and exacts devious and repugnant punishments, like dates with unknown men. I went up the spiral staircase and opened my closet so I could stare at my clothes."

IT'S LIKE Chandler in drag.

By Sarah Dunn

GENRE Unapologetic chick lit

THE SETUP Alison is ruthlessly smart, terribly funny and totally neurotic. And the fact that her boyfriend Tom went out to buy mustard, then called to say he wasn't coming back, isn't making her any more stable. At 32 Alison has only ever slept with two people in her life, in part because she was raised an evangelical Christian, which has given her a kind of spiritual-sexual hangover she's still trying to get over. She has a lot of catching up to do. Oh, and she's a newspaper columnist — not the most original plot device, but, hey, sometimes the formula works. The Big Love is a perfect sugary confection, with a surprising center of wistful wisdom.

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