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What We're Reading, March 16-22

Linda Wertheimer hails a Dickensian novel of London in the boom days of 2007, before the banking bust. An encore by child detective Flavia de Luce (Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) is both creepy and laugh-out-loud funny. And So Much for That finds the hilarity in a relentless tale of runaway health care costs.


A Week In December

A Novel

By Sebastian Faulks

A former journalist and now an award-winning novelist, Sebastian Faulks has written nine books. The most recent before A Week in December was Faulks' venture into Ian Fleming territory, a new James Bond thriller called Devil May Care. A Week in December is about seven days in the lives of seven Londoners in 2007. The week is one organizing principle; another is the Circle Line, the subway that rings central London, enclosing the characters and taking them on their journeys. The book is partly a glimpse into what life in Britain's political, cultural and social capital is like today. It is also a powerful novel that weaves lives and stories together, with a focus on the electronic threads that often form the connections (and often not in a good way).


Hardcover, 400 pages; Doubleday; list price, $27.95; publication date, March 9

The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag

A Flavia de Luce Mystery

By Alan Bradley


Eleven-year-old amateur chemist and detective Flavia de Luce first captured readers' hearts last year in Alan Bradley's debut novel,The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. This follow-up finds the young English girl embroiled in another mystery: a famous puppeteer visiting Flavia's hometown of Bishop's Lacey is electrocuted during a performance of Jack and the Beanstalk, and the junior sleuth refuses to believe it was an accident. With the help of Dogger (her father's handyman), Gladys (her bicycle), and a well-stocked chemical laboratory, Flavia bikes circles around the skeptical, but indulgent, townspeople and local law enforcement (when she's not being tormented by her insufferable big sisters.)

Hardcover, 384 pages; Delacorte; list price, $24.00; publication date, March 9

So Much for That

A Novel

By Lionel Shriver

Journalist Lionel Shriver could not have picked a timelier subject for her new novel — the turbulent waters of American health care. Into these depths plunges Shepherd "Shep" Knacker, a man Shriver describes early on as "constitutionally obedient." Shep has done all the right things. He's scrimped, saved and labored (as a professional handyman, no less) his way to a nest egg, all so he can realize his American dream: to retire to a sunny Third-World isle. Shep prepares to launch himself into this new life (what he calls "The Afterlife") with or without his prickly wife Glynis. But she meets his ultimatum with some explosive news of her own: She's been diagnosed with a rare and virulent form of cancer. This initial salvo is only the first of many; into the mix Shriver adds an ailing elderly parent, a freeloading sibling and a surgical procedure associated more with e-mail spam than legitimate medicine. So Much for That opens, quite literally, with an accounting of Shep's Merrill Lynch portfolio — a sum that he tracks through the course of the novel and one that, as the story unfolds, will be spent down to within a cell of his (and his wife's) life.

Hardcover, 448 pages; Harper; list price, $25.99; publication date, March 9

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