Plot: Eighteen-year-old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy scorns his mother, his schoolmates, and America. He comes under the sway of a radical imam at a mosque in a seedy New Jersey town, who recruits him to blow up the Holland Tunnel.
Gist: Mr. Updike, famous for writing about middle-class angst, shares his central character's animosity toward a decaying American city peopled with despairing folks living degraded lives, but this attempt to plumb the motivations of a terrorist is highly suspect, and the plot is mediocre.
Caution: Language and sexual situations.
Plot: Dr. Amin Jaafari, an Arab with Israeli citizenship, lives in Tel Aviv affluence and operates on those wounded by the city's violence. He remains determinedly apolitical until his wife's body is found in the rubble of a restaurant bombing, and she is accused by the Israelis of being the bomber.
Gist: A compelling story told in sometimes-clichéd prose. Khadra, also examining terrorist motivations, concludes that a life of constant humiliation-which his technocratic, tightrope-walking doctor had previously escaped-causes some people to blow up their neighbors.
Plot: A Massachusetts DA with her sights on the governor's mansion thinks she will gain political glory by using advanced DNA technology to solve old crimes. Instead a new crime occurs.
Gist: Patricia Cornwell's most recent books have been bloated and bizarre. Did this slim volume, which ran as a serial in the New York Times Magazine (shades of Charles Dickens), restore her, through the discipline of writing for serialization, to the form that won her an Edgar Award? No.
Plot: A rich, former military man who now runs a mercenary enterprise hires Jake Reacher to find out who kidnapped his wife. Eventually Reacher realizes that the wife's disappearance is not what it seems.
Gist: Reacher is a modern hero who appears out of nowhere, with a shrouded past, to right an injustice: After succeeding through well-administered violence, he disappears. Child's taut prose and intriguing plot make this a compelling page-turner.
Caution: Unlike traditional Western heroes, Reacher is not chaste (but details are left out).
It's hard to imagine a Westerner walking across Afghanistan, especially in the winter immediately after the fall of the Taliban. But that's what Rory Stewart, a former Scottish diplomat, did beginning in January 2002. He'd planned to cross the mountainous war-torn country a year and a half earlier as part of a journey by foot from Iran to Nepal, but visa trouble kept him from completing the Afghanistan leg of the journey. When the Taliban fell, he decided to pick up his travels where he'd been interrupted.
The Places in Between (Harvest, 2006) describes how Mr. Stewart set out, armed with only a working knowledge of Farsi and an adventurous spirit. From village to village, through winter snows and across land he knew might be mined, from areas controlled by one warlord to those dominated by another, Mr. Stewart experienced the hospitality and hostility of people inured to war-and he picked up a companion, a stray dog he named Babur. But what makes this book exceptional is not just the improbable adventure but the specific detail, warmth, and humor: Mr. Stewart (who includes sketches he drew) describes wonderfully the people and places he encountered.