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Dave Wood's Book Report, March 19, 2008

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Minnesota is busting out all over in the book world. Let's start with one newcomer and one oldtimer.

Minnesotan M.E. Smith has worked in the field of clinical research for pharmaceutical companies for nine years. He has also worked as an FBI investigator.

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His background is a perfect fit in the new world of crime fiction, which I write about all the time.

In the old days we had Agatha Christie. To do an Agatha Christie type book, all you needed to know that old English ladies wore tweeds and were very nosy.

These days the trend is toward specialty. These days we have chefs who are also detectives. We have home repair specialists who solve crimes. You get the picture. So when Smith told me he'd just penned a novel about the pharmaceutical business, I said send it on.

"Trials: the risk/benefit ratio" by (Beaver's Pond Press, $17.95) is a humdinger that keeps you reading as you learn something about the pharmaceutical game. Grant Adams is a clinical researcher who gives up a good job at a giant corporation to work for a new company on the banks of the St. Croix River.

Why would he make such a move? Because the new company is working on a miracle drug that would cure a rare disease, bronchi sclerosis. His little daughter is suffering from the fatal disease and Grant hopes to work her into the project in hopes of curing her.

Unfortunately, he gets tangled up with unethical characters at the new company and the biggest dilemma he's ever faced. Should he blow the whistle on them and risk the death of his daughter? Thus the title of the book. Believe me, it's a good read.

Jane Pejsa has been writing interesting books for years. Her first book, "The Molineux Affair" was based on a true story crime about a woman who had worked with Pejsa's mother years before. That fascinating book earned Pejsa a spot on the shortlist for the Edgar Allen Poe Fact Crime Award.

Subsequently, she won a Minnesota Book Award for "Matriarch of Conspiracy, Ruth von Least," which has been published in several foreign language editions.

Then came her affectionate biography of Minneapolis icon/librarian, Gratis Countrymen, followed by another biography of Hollywood rogue, Mike Romanoff.

Now she's out with an ambitious -- and very curious -- historical fiction, "The Final Encounter" (Kenwood Publishing, 1314 Marquette Av., Suite 906, Minneapolis, MN 55403, $19.95).

The encounter is between World War II generals Erwin Rommel, George S. Patton and Georgi K. Zhukov.

In her very imaginative book, Jane does not put these adversaries on the battlefield, but uses meticulous research to construct a meeting in the hereafter. Let Pejsa explain:

"I have chronicled an encounter involving three of the Twentieth Century's most memorable figure. Although they lived in rather different spheres, not one of them can be adequately understood without reference to the other two. ... And since they did not have the opportunity to know each other in this world, the only option for me, as chronicler, was to postulate an environment that would allow them this opportunity in the next. Thus I have dared construct an antechamber to the Hereafter, a place where these three men can meet each other and leisurely discuss matters of common interest ...."

How's that for a plot? In a forward, Dr. Manfred Rommel, son of the German general, writes that "I admire Jane Pejsa for walking in the footsteps of Dante, in the antechamber of heaven, hell and purgatory."

How's that for an endorsement?

Worried about your command of English? Don't worry says British linguist David Crystal in his new book, "The Fight for English" (Oxford University Press, $19.95).

In his provocative 100th book, Crystal takes on Lynne Truss's bestseller of a few years ago, "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," in which a plea is made for "correctness" in matters of punctuation.

Crystal says nuts to that. Truss is a prescriptivist, meaning that she prescribes what is proper. Crystal is a descriptivist, which means he chooses to describe what's happening to the language (which changes all the time), without recourse to finger-pointing. This book is sure to raise eyebrows in the groves of grammar.

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

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