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.
This goddess-worshipping conspiracy tale is still No. 1 with its weird theories of biblical interpretation and a profane premise: that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and produced a daughter.
2. The Five People You Meet ...
An old man dies and in heaven meets five people whose lives were intertwined with his.
The bestselling author of Tuesdays with Morrie has a knack for description, but his fable about what happens after death flows poorly and drips with clichés. Aphorisms like "in Heaven you get to make sense of your yesterdays" compete with Jonathan Livingston Seagull's wisdom.
3. 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 two-decade killing spree to wipe them out.
Ms. 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.
4. Full Cupboard of Life
Alexander McCall Smith
Precious Romotswe is back solving cases in Botswana with her No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. A wealthy client wants to find out whether her four suitors are attracted to her or to her money. Meanwhile, Precious wonders whether her own fiancé will ever set a wedding date.
The charm in these novels is in the characters. Precious solves her cases using observation, intuition, and her insights into human nature. Her best detecting often occurs over a pot of bush tea under a shade tree.
5. The Narrows
A serial killer, thought to be dead, is back. He has an elaborate plan to involve the FBI, including an agent, Rachel Walling, who almost killed him years earlier. Meanwhile retired LAPD detective Harry Bosch investigates a friend's death, which leads him to the serial killer.
Harry Bosch, named after painter Heironymous Bosch, is more interested in righting wrongs than making money. Though fairly clean for this genre, The Narrows has some bad words and bad behavior: Bosch ends up in bed with Rachel.
In the spotlight
Newsweek placed on its cover Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, co-authors of the Left Behind series, and gives stats from the publisher, Tyndale, on the series' fans: "71 percent of the readers are from the South and Midwest, and just 6 percent from the Northeast. The 'core buyer' is a 44-year-old born-again Christian woman, married with kids, living in the South." Newsweek also provides some humor from Jenkins: "I was in Sam's Club the other day, standing behind a woman carrying a copy of Left Behind in one hand and a fifth of whisky in the other. Something was going to put her to sleep that night."
Newsweek often portrays evangelicals as braggarts or hypocrites, so it was a pleasure to see self-effacing quotations from Jenkins, author of 150 books: "Pedestrian writing, thin characters-I can handle the criticism ... I write to pedestrians. And I am a pedestrian. I write the best I can. I know I'm never going to be revered as some classic writer. I don't claim to be C.S. Lewis. The literary-type writers, I admire them. I wish I was smart enough to write a book that's hard to read, you know?" A recent Jenkins novel, The Youngest Hero, stars a poor, young baseball player with major league ambitions: It's not hard to read but it is very good.