BOOKS: IN VERY CONFUSED BLOOD

A NOVEL DIPS INTO A REAL-LIFE MYSTERY'S MURKY TRUTHS

The formidable and sometimes forbidding Margaret Atwood has turned a notorious Canadian murder case from the mid-19th century into a shadowy, fascinating novel. Alias Grace (Doubleday; 468 pages; $24.95) is less combative and ideological than such earlier Atwood novels as The Handmaid's Tale and The Robber Bride. That's not a drawback. There's a teasing, unknowable mystery at the heart of the story, which is the same one faced by jurors in Toronto in the 1840s: to what extent was Grace Marks, a pretty, nearly 16-year-old servant girl, guilty of the murder of her employer, Thomas Kinnear? And to what extent was...

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