"The Last Runaway"

By Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier's "Girl With a Pearl Earring," which brought Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer to life, has become a near-classic in contemporary historical fiction. And her latest novel, "The Last Runaway," takes on similarly fascinating and little-known subject matter - the Quakers' role in the Underground Railroad during the mid-1800s.

Heroine Honor Bright leaves England for America, settles in Ohio and becomes intimately involved in the movement - helping runaway slaves reach freedom. Despite this compelling fictional backdrop, Chevalier's storytelling just doesn't do it justice.

Bright, despite her name, is anything but. Her character is flat and dull and spends much of her time longing for home. The rest of the characters are similarly unsympathetic and undeveloped.

And the quilting. Clearly, the discussion of quilting - the patterns, the styles, the methods - is intended as a motif to carry the reader seamlessly through the story.

Instead, it feels obvious, annoying and overdone.

That said, it's a quick read as Chevalier's writing is solid and compelling.

Kim Curtis, The Associated Press


By Robert Crais

Los Angeles police officer Scott James and his partner, Stephanie Anders, were searching for an all-night noodle house late one night when they ran straight into a gun battle. The officers jumped from their patrol car to intervene, but when the shooting was over, Stephanie lay dead in the street, and Scott was badly wounded.

On the other side of the world, Maggie, an 85-pound German shepherd trained to sniff out explosives, went on alert as an old man approached her Marine patrol. Before the dog and her handler could stop him, the man detonated a bomb he'd concealed beneath his clothing. As Maggie stood guard over her dying master, terrorists shot her.

Months later, Scott and Maggie, both hobbling from wounds and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, are united as a new team in the Los Angeles police department's K-9 platoon.

Defying their orders, they set out to solve Stephanie's unsolved murder.

Crais, one of the masters of modern crime fiction, unwinds his plot slowly at first, devoting the first half of the book to developing the relationship between the two damaged partners.

But in the second half, the suspense is high and the pace blistering, culminating in an action scene as hot as anything in a "Lethal Weapon" movie.

Still, the best part of the book is the interaction between Scott and Maggie.

Bruce DeSilva, for The Associated Press