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Pagan Babies
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The opening paragraph depicts a corner of hell on earth: a church in Rwanda after the recent (real-life) genocide, "a tomb where forty-seven bodies turned to leather.... " That's a grim start for a Leonard book, and the rest of this 36th novel from the old master doesn't shy from its dark promise. The world depicted here is a treacherous place, infested with diseased souls. While some of the spiritually afflicted are villains, however, some are merely scoundrels. It's to the latter that Leonard lends hopeDmost notably to two appealing felons: "Father" Terry Dunn, who ministers to the Rwanda church's surviving flock although he is on the lam and only posing as a priest, and Debbie Dewey, just released after serving three years for driving over her (now ex) husband with a Ford Escort. When Terry guns down four men responsible for the massacre in the church and flees to hometown Detroit, he meets Debbie and the two fall in lust pronto. It takes only minutes for Terry to inform Debbie, who's trying to make it as a stand-up comic telling prison jokes, that he's a sham priest, and only days for him to clue her in on his new scheme: to bilk the soft-hearted for dollars supposedly for Rwandan orphans but really for Terry's pockets. Great idea, Debbie thinks, and why not get the money from her now rich and mob-connected ex, and maybe even from mob boss Tony Amilia himself? The narrative ricochets through the ensuing caper and its gallery of players as lifelike as they are unlikely. As readers watch an erstwhile hoodlum pal of Terry's, one Johnny Pajonny, link up with a dim-witted hitman known as "Mutt," they'll know that they're standing at ground-zero Leonard, surrounded by some of the sweetest prose between covers this year and caught up in a crime thriller that takes admirable chancesDaesthetically and morally. Film rights sold to Universal and Danny DeVito's production company, Jersey Films. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Coming on the heels of his second Chili Palmer novel (Be Cool), Leonard's latest effort seems to have some pretty straight-laced characters. However, a well-developed story and Leonard's trademark dry wit compensate for the lack of a force like Chili. Father Terry Dunn, an American priest working in Rwanda, is forced to return to the United States after exacting penance from a group of local Hutu murderers. Upon returning to Detroit, ostensibly to raise money for African orphans, he becomes involved with Debbie, a recently released ex-convict hoping to strike it rich as a stand-up comedian. A plan for both Terry and Debbie to attain the riches they desire soon gives way to a mix of deceit and false loyalties. Once again, Leonard proves his mastery at creating likable if very flawed characters, and nobody presents the running of the con game better than he does. His fans will enjoy his latest, making it essential for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/00.]DCraig L. Shufelt, Gladwin Cty. Lib., MI Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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