Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'What an excellent day for an exorcism'

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To commemorate its 40th anniversary, William Peter Blatty's classic novel The Exorcist is being reissued (Harper, 379 pages, $17). If it's been a while since you read the book, it's time to give it another look; if you've never read it, now's your chance. This story about a 12-year-old girl possessed by a demon is shocking in a visceral, almost primal way.

Blatty, who was born in New York City, was an established, if undistinguished, novelist before The Exorcist made him a superstar in 1971. And it's easy to see why the book was such a smash: even today its raw language makes the reader shudder (most of it coming, remember, out of the mouth of an innocent), and its visual imagery is as frightening as it ever was.

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After that, you'll need something a little lighter. So here's Go, Mutants! (Harper, 385 pages, $16), by Baltimore's Larry Doyle. It's a bittersweet coming-of-age story with a difference: its hero, J!m, is an extraterrestrial. And not just any ET: he's the son of the alien overlord who, not too long ago, tried to invade the planet Earth.

But that all got sorted out, and now J!m's just your (mostly) normal teen, dealing with the usual issues: adolescence, love, bullying and an unanticipated incident involving his own (temporary) death. Set 40-odd years ago in an alternate version of suburban America, the novel features snappy prose, some wild and crazy characters -- J!m's friends include a sentient blob and an intelligent ape -- and so much fun that you'll be surprise Doyle could pack that much entertainment into one book.

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In The Reversal (Vision, 440 pages, $11), from Florida's Michael Connelly, defence attorney Mickey Haller, also known as the Lincoln lawyer, is offered a job too good to pass up: a temporary assignment as prosecutor in a case involving a child murderer whose conviction was reversed. Now the state has a very short time in which to retry the man, or he'll walk.

Mickey's swimming in unfamiliar waters -- everything is different when you're sitting at the prosecution table -- but, as a longtime defence lawyer, he's used to being thrown in at the deep end.

Luckily, he's also used to his cases getting ever more complicated before they come to a conclusion. Connelly is the author of a string of best-selling crime novels (detective Harry Bosch, in a supporting role here, appears elsewhere as the hero of his own series), and Mickey Haller is among his most compelling and morally conflicted creations.

This is the third Haller novel, and, in many ways, the best so far (although the fourth, The Fifth Witness, published earlier this year in hardcover, gives it a run for its money).

-- -- --

Dead Zero (Pocket, 518 pages, $13) is another gripping, beautifully crafted Bob Lee Swagger novel from Maryland's Stephen Hunter. Gunnery Sgt. Ray Cruz's mission to take down an Afghan warlord goes horribly wrong, and it appears that he's killed in action -- until later he turns up alive, promising to complete his mission. Which is very bad news for certain elements of the American government, who now consider the warlord to be a valuable asset.

The government hires Swagger, the retired marine sniper, to track down Cruz and neutralize him -- without loss of life, if possible. On the other hand, a shadowy special-ops team has a similar assignment, but for vastly different reasons, and they're not too concerned whether the target remains alive at the end of the mission.

The stage is set for a showdown that's guaranteed to thrill Hunter's legion of readers.

Halifax freelance writer David Pitt's column appears the first weekend of the month.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 1, 2011 J9

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