BOOKS: CALIFORNIA BAD DREAMING

NOVELIST AND POET DENIS JOHNSON SCORES WITH A DRUG-DRENCHED, CALAMITY-FILLED LITERARY THRILLER

Denis Johnson, the author of four previous novels and three volumes of poetry, has earned an impressive string of literary awards and fellowships, not to mention a circle of devoted readers. But the big commercial blockbuster that all writers, no matter how pure and literary, dream about has so far eluded him. Already Dead (HarperCollins; 435 pages; $25) looks very much like Johnson's bid to hit the charts, with a bullet. Subtitled A California Gothic, a phrase that some may find redundant, this new novel offers just about everything that thriller buyers look for: drugs, booze, sex, murderous violence, a soupcon...

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