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Dave Wood's Book Report, Aug. 6, 2008

Many years ago a Star Tribune colleague and I co-published a book of stories that had earlier appeared in our newspaper. We were surprised to learn that the Twin Cities Reader, an "alternative" newspaper wanted to do a story about us and our new book.

Surprised because the Reader never had much good to say about the biggest newspaper in town. Surprised and a bit worried. Was this going to be a hatchet job?

A young reporter came to the newspaper, we drank coffee and talked. He took a few notes, but not many. He was a very hip guy and we wondered what he thought of us old fogies. A few days later, the story appeared. It was a wonderful job, spot on. The young man knew us both, upside down, from the beginning and he wrote a great story. This guy, we thought, will go far.

We were right. Hopkins, Minn., native David Carr is now a columnist for the New York Times. But he went through hell getting there.

I just received a review copy of his new book, "The Night of the Gun," (Simon & Schuster, $26), Carr's tell-all autobiography. What my co-author and I didn't know when Carr interviewed us was that he was deeply mired in the drug culture. He not only took drugs, but sold drugs. Drugs were his life and kicking the habit took him a long, long time.

In his opening chapters Carr admits he doesn't trust his memory, so what he does is interview people who knew him when he was on a drug-fueled rampage. Their memories turn out to be much different than his. He also digs up police records and records from his years in treatment.

And that's not the end of it, he marries, has children, gets fired, gets jobs, cleans up his act, ends up in New York City working for this country's newspaper of record. But then he slides into what he calls respectable suburban alcoholism. His escape from that concludes his harrowing tale.

Carr has always had a gritty, wise-guy writing style and it's never been more useful than in this gripping tale of failure and redemption.

There's at least one more month of trips to the lake. Here are three new mysteries just in case it rains the whole weekend.

"Swan Peak," by two-time Edgar Award winner James Lee Burk (Simon & Schuster, $25.95) finds Burk's detective Dave Robicheaux away from his native Louisiana relaxing on vacation in Montana (Burk divides his time between New Iberia, La. Aand Missoula, Mont.). Robicheaux and his pal's plan to fish is aborted when two college students turn up brutally murdered.

Atlanta is the setting for "Fractured," by Karin Slaughter (Delacorte, $25). Georgia Bureau of Investigation detective Will Trent is investigating the murder of a girl in a mansion in a fashionable section of the city. He's bedeviled by the feeling someone else has been or is about to be murdered and also by an Atlanta city cop who has good reason for disliking him.

When it comes to crime procedurals, I'm a sucker for gumshoes who don't trod the streets of New York or L.A. That's why I like Englishman David Hewson, who sets his novels in the Eternal City, Rome. In his latest, "The Garden of Evil," (Delacorte, $24) Hewson's detective, Nic Costas becomes deeply involved in an art student murder, under a canvas that looks like a Caraveggio. Before we know it, we're plunged back in history 400 years to the Medicis, to plots within plots, and an enjoyable romp through Roman history.

Dave Wood is a past president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. E-mail hm at