1. The DaVinci Code
A curator at the Louvre is murdered, but before he dies leaves clues that send his granddaughter (a police cryptologist) and his colleague (a Harvard professor) on a search for the killer.
Mr. Brown will please goddess-worshipping conspiracy buffs who like weird theories of biblical interpretation and his profane premise: that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and produced a son.
2. Glorious Appearing
The last book in the Left Behind series culminates in Jesus' reappearance and final battle with the anti-Christ. The book, like the whole series, functions more as an animated prophecy sermon than as a novel.
Readers either like the Left Behind series or they don't. This volume contains the same two-dimensional characters, wooden dialogue, and cheesy sci-fi feel of the other volumes. It's a kindness that when Jesus speaks he uses long passages of Scripture.
3. The Last Juror
Willie Traynor, a young journalist and publisher in the early 1970s, covers a grisly rape/murder and the subsequent trial, conviction, and parole of the killer.
The murder and parole form the tale's bookends. In between we learn of colorful characters, small-town politics and corruption, the coming of a big discount store, and Traynor's friendship with a black family matriarch, whose concern for his soul sets him on a quest to visit all 88 churches in town.
4. Nighttime is My Time
Mary Higgins Clark
At a 20th reunion we learn that a nerdy teen, humiliated by a clique of girls during high school, has gone on a 20-year killing spree to wipe them out.
Mary Higgins Clark manages to write page-turning thrillers without the foul language and graphic sex scenes that characterize the genre. This is beach reading with enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing the killer's identity until the end, when everything is wrapped up neatly.
5. The five people you meet ...
An old man dies and in heaven meets five people whose lives were intertwined with his.
The best-selling author of Tuesdays with Morrie has a knack for description, but his "fable" about what happens after death lacks narrative flow and drips with clichés. Its reliance on aphorisms-in heaven "you get to make sense of your yesterdays"-guarantees that those who considered Jonathan Livingston Seagull fine fare will devour this book.
In the spotlight
Plan of Attack, Bob Woodward's account of the planning and build-up to the Iraq war, is a fascinating look at the way President Bush and his national-security team set about preparing the United States for war. Some reviews of the book make it seem as if this is another negative portrayal of the Bush administration-but it's not. Mr. Woodward shows an administration prepared from the beginning to confront foreign threats, and Mr. Bush comes across as an involved, steady, determined leader.
Press accounts of the book have been largely favorable to Colin Powell, who's portrayed as a reluctant warrior. But in the end, when he saw that diplomacy wasn't going to convince Saddam Hussein to cooperate, Mr. Powell made a persuasive case to the UN in favor of war. Mr. Woodward shows the seriousness with which Mr. Bush and his team approached war, and their resolve to see it through even if it meant that Mr. Bush would be a one-term president.