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By Blake de Pastino, Tracey L. Cooley, Julie Birnbaum, Jessica English

SEPTEMBER 8, 1997: 

Highway: America's Endless Dream
by Jeff Brouws et al. (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, paper, $29.95)

I won't even hazard a guess as to how many books have been published about the romance of the open road. But I can tell you that Highway: America's Endless Dream is different. As these three artists look at it, the highway is not a mystique but a myth, a myth that is now nearly dead. In one essay, Bernd Polster writes about the highway leitmotif in American culture, ticking off lists of movies, books and TV shows that have celebrated the road. In another, Phil Patton outlines the history of highways, describing the road as a collective Jungian symbol that has reflected very real social and political ideas. And with 100 color plates, Jeff Brouws presents an excellent vision of the highway in decay--vibrant, ironic, almost bitter in their precision--which together present a surprisingly unromantic account of America's roadside culture. (BdeP)

The Blue Devils of Nada
by Albert Murray (Vintage, paper, $12)

Before reading this book I did not understand the relationship between performers such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie or Louis Armstrong and painters like Romare Bearden or writers like Ernest Hemingway. But as I read Albert Murray's explanations of musical patterns and the similar nuances in literature and the visual arts, I gained respect for the creative process that is based on rhythm, repetition and style. Murray expresses aestheticism in its purest, revelatory state and approaches it from the perspective of different performers with a wide variety of personalities. His writing is concise and inspiring, while his subject matter is truly fascinating. The early blues masters were genuine heroes, and there is no one who could tell their seldom-heard stories as eloquently as Murray. (TLC)

Murder in the New Age
by D.J.H. Jones (Univ. of New Mexico Press, cloth, $19.95)

Santa Fe author D.J.H. Jones is in love with Nancy Cook. But who could help it? This main character is completely captivating--savvy, smart, beautiful, a Chaucer scholar who finds herself in the middle of the mystery in Murder in the New Age as well as Jones' first book Murder at the MLA. His latest novel is trés trendy, with new age mumbo jumbo and the city of Santa Fe figuring prominently. Thankfully, all that is perfectly balanced with the mystery kitsch that has addicted millions to the genre: details, details, details, a bit of exaggeration and all the pleasant tricks and twists. As with any good mystery, though, what makes the novel is Nancy Cook, a character I'm eager to see again. (JE)

King Suckerman
by George P. Pelecanos (Little Brown, cloth, $22.95)

Hailed as one of the '90s leading crime fiction writers, Pelecanos delivers a tightly-spun, detailed suspense story in King Suckerman, with a hard-boiled prose style and on-the-mark street dialogue. Steeped in the music, fashion, politics and ethos of the '70s, Pelecanos' tale has a Tarantino-like moral spin, conveying the senselessness and absurdity of violence through sheer, grotesque overkill (no pun intended). Set mostly in D.C. around the bicentennial celebration, the plot revolves around a motley group of outcasts for whom merciless killing is a game and the two friends whose unintentional involvement brings both loss and renewal. In the end, the slick story is disturbingly fatalistic, its characters caught in the tailspin of racial and social tensions, struggling with the pull of destruction and despair in a decaying city. (JB)

--Blake de Pastino, Tracy L. Cooley, Jessica English and Julie Birnbaum

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