"The Fever Tree"

By Jennifer McVeigh

Jennifer McVeigh's first novel, "The Fever Tree," is a lovely one. It's lovely in the way of a beach sunset or a spring day or a rest under a shady tree with a glass of lemonade.

It's the story of Frances, who's forced to abandon her upper-class life in late 19th-century England after her father dies. Left with no viable means of support, Frances travels to South Africa to marry Edwin, an old family friend and physician.

At one point, Frances rages: "I can pin my hair in five different styles; I can paint, embroider, and play the piano; but what else can I do?"

Sound familiar?

It's all quite accessible and tremendously appealing - like that lemonade or sunset.

McVeigh's story line isn't new or compelling, but for some reason, "The Fever Tree" is a page turner. Her prose is well put-together, like a woman who's aging gracefully. The South African landscape is vivid, but her characters aren't particularly deep or complicated. Nor is the plot. There are bad guys and good guys. Bad things happen to good people and vice versa.

The one element that's unique to this novel is the description of the deceit wrought upon the locals by mine owners in Kimberley who lied about a smallpox outbreak. McVeigh says she was inspired by reading a canvas-bound diary written by a doctor who witnessed the two-year epidemic that killed thousands of Africans.

Perhaps "The Fever Tree" could have risen to "Out of Africa" quality with more research or more realistic, less predictable characters. Instead, it remains what it is - a lovely, but, ultimately, forgettable read.

By Kim Curtis, The Associated Press

"Fangs Out"

By David Freed

After 10 years on California's death row, Dorian Munz is finally about to be executed for murdering the daughter of a Vietnam war hero named Hub Walker. Does Munz have any last words?

"Funny you should ask," he says, and then swears the young woman was actually killed by her employer, a military contractor named Greg Castle, to keep her from exposing what she knew about him defrauding the U.S. government.

The California press has a field day with the accusation, but Hub Walker doesn't believe a word of it because Castle is one of his best friends.

Walker offers Cordell Logan, a former military black ops assassin now scraping out a living as a civil flight instructor, $10,000 to discredit Munz's claim and restore his friend's reputation.

Logan, introduced last year in David Freed's debut novel, "Flat Spin," needs the money. He also welcomes the chance to fly his personal plane to San Diego, where several principals in the case live, because he is hoping to reconcile there with his beautiful ex-wife, Savannah.

Logan figures wooing Savannah back will be the hard part. The investigation, he thinks, will be a slam-dunk. As it turns out, he's right about Savannah, but dead wrong about the case.

Before long, Logan stumbles over the body of a woman who had been a witness in the long-ago murder, is briefly suspected of killing her, is seduced by Walker's trophy wife, gets assaulted by people who want him to mind his own business, and is nearly killed when someone tampers with his private plane. Eventually, he manages to sort it all out and help bring some bad people to justice.

Freed, an experienced pilot, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a military affairs expert with an active security clearance, spins his suspenseful plot with the same muscular prose, hard-boiled attitude and flashes of wry humor that made the first Logan Cordell novel a critical success.

Bruce Desilva, for The Associated Press

"All That Is"

By James Salter

James Salter is a brilliant writer. He's perhaps among the greatest American writers alive today. But "All That Is," his latest work and his first full-length novel since 1979, feels written more for writers than for readers.

Its strength is the intensely beautiful way Salter combines words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into this lean, spare 300-page novel.

"All That Is" tells the story of the life and loves of Philip Bowman, a World War II veteran who spends a career in publishing. But what happens to Bowman -whom he loves, whom he loses - feels less important than the wisdom Salter leaves behind.

On the blinding power of love:

"He loved her for not only what she was but what she might be, the idea that she might be otherwise did not occur to him or did not matter. Why would it occur? When you love you see a future according to your dreams."

Or the simplicity of a much-loved home:

"Summer mornings, the light of the world pouring in and the silence. It was a barefoot life, the cool of the night on the floorboards, the green trees if you stepped outside, the first faint cries of the birds."

In the end, what happens to Philip Bowman is of little consequence.

Instead, what matters is the journey led by a true master of the written word.

Kim Curtis, The Associated Press