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Dave Wood's Book Report, July 22, 2009

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It's time to roll out several summer reading books, including Lisa Gardner's "The Neighbor" (Bantam, $25).

South Boston has always fascinated me, ever since movies like "Good Will Hunting" and "Mystic River."

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Gardner ("The Killing Hour)" sets her new novel in the world of the "Southie."

A housewife, Sandra Jones, from South Boston turns up missing, leaving behind only a four-year-old daughter and her husband, Jason, who seems determined to destroy evidence of his wife's existence.

Detective Sgt. D.D. Warren is assigned to the case and is at first puzzled at the normality of Jones's home life.

Let's skip over to the other coast and introduce Seattle's Mary Daheim.

For some she needs little introduction, for she's written 50 novels, many of tem about small town Washington state newspaper editor Emma Lord and her "Alpine Advocate."

Lord whose weekly is always competing with the town of Alpine's radio station finally has a chance to beat the station to the punch. That's because big news has occurred on the eve of the newspaper's publication.

Seems that the wild and wooly Icicle Creek Tavern in the old logging town has a murder on its hands, when a guy named DeMuth is murdered there in a drunken brawl.

There were lots of witnesses, but most of them were too drunk to remember the murder well and so it falls to Emma to investigate.

Following on the heels of the murder, two kids die in a highway accident and the town is abuzz with rumors about a possible connection between the two incidents.

The author takes us to small town places like Stella's Styling Salon and the Burger Barn and Emma's newspaper office where the owner of the Icicle Creek Tavern wants his money back on the two-inch, one-column ad he purchased.

I'm here to tell you that book reviewers are not always popular with the writers whose books they review.

Years back I gave a lukewarm review to Thomas Gifford's latest novel and he wrote me a searing note, punching the typewriter so hard the paper fell out within each "O."

In the end, he said I was nothing better than "codswallop," which turns out to be fish excrement.

Well, Dean Koontz is having fun with a book reviewer in "Relentless" (Bantam, $27).

His hero is a bestselling novelist (like Koontz) named Cullen Greenwich, who has it made.

His books sell well, his wife loves him, his little kid is smart. So when a reviewer named Shearman Waxx gives his Greenwich's latest novel a bad review, Greenwich knows better, but can't resist confronting him about it.

This a big mistake, as Greenwich discovers, when it turns out that Waxx takes his job of criticism seriously. He does not accept criticism. He gives it as Greenwich all too soon finds out.

Historian Dave Kenney is out with a beautifully turned out hardcover "50 Tears if Music: The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra" (Nodin Press, $30).

It's a well-written history full of historic photographs of the orchestra in its infancy, on its way to the big time, and the big time.

Kenney's work is no simple apologia, but digs in to criticisms of the orchestra and some of its personalities and how they were handled by the local media, the critics like the one mentioned above.

One of them is Mike Anthony, an old office mate of mine, a brilliant music critic and a millstone around the neck of onetime SPCO conductor Pinchas Zukerman.

Kenny quotes Anthony's review of Zukerman's first concert, featuring his mentor, Isaac Stern:

"Anthony peppered his praise of Sterns playing with a cutting description of the conductor's double-duty musicianship: "Zukerman played the viola and made occasional conducting gestures with his bow, as though hailing a taxi."

Later in the review, Anthony was "mortified" when the not too bright audience applauded between movements. Anthony blamed Zukerman: "'His vocabulary of conductor's body language is not large enough yet to control such outbursts."

Fortunately for the SPCO, Zukerman stalked out of St. Paul years ago, to be replaced by world renowned conductors. When he stalked, Kenney reports that Pioneer Press columnist wrote: "Let's just see how shabbily Pinky has been treated by this little backwater burg. First, we should note that Pinky is paid $300,000 a year for 19 weeks of work. That kind of money would buy a lot of oboe players ...."

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone: (715) 426-9554

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