An alien spacecraft has crashed into Earth, and its occupants have brought a little gift -- a contagious cancer.
That's the havoc being wreaked in Stephen King's new thriller, "Dreamcatcher."
King's novel is among the latest hardcover novels of mystery and suspense, which include books by Robert B. Parker, James Patterson and Rita Mae Brown, and two by M.C. Beaton.
In "Dreamcatcher" (Scribner), four boys from Derry, Maine -- that eerie little spot on the map from King's novels "It" and "Insomnia" -- rescue a Down syndrome boy from bullies. Through their good deed, the four become mildly telepathic -- a talent that comes in handy 25 years later, when they are in the Maine woods at their annual hunting reunion. A disoriented stranger stumbles into their camp, muttering something about strange lights in the sky. A victim of the aliens' infection, he begins to spread a deadly fungus caused by a parasite that latches onto humans.
This is the cover of "Dreamcatcher" (Scribner) by Stephen King. (AP Photo)
By Robert B. Parker
Boston private eye Spenser goes west to Potshot, Ariz., a former mining town reborn as a playground and retreat for wealthy Los Angelenos. He is hired by the operator of a tours-on-horseback service who thinks her husband was murdered for refusing to pay extortion money to a local gang. With no witnesses and no help from the local police, Spenser investigates, aided by an assortment of cohorts including his sidekick Hawk.
"1st to Die" (Little, Brown)
By James Patterson
In this first in a planned series, a serial killer is stalking and murdering newlywed couples in San Francisco. Customary procedures prove useless, so four women friends form the Women's Murder Club, joining forces to investigate the crimes on their own time and in their own way. They are Lindsay, a homicide detective; her best friend Claire, a medical examiner; Jill, an assistant district attorney; and Cindy, a crime reporter with the Chronicle.
"Claws and Effect" (Bantam)
By Rita Mae Brown
This is the 10th in the series set in little Crozet, Va., and "co-written" by Brown's cat, Sneaky Pie. Trouble begins when postmistress Harry Haristeen receives a chain letter threatening bad luck to anyone who doesn't support Crozet Hospital's fund-raising drive. It gets serious when the hospital's plant manager is found dead in the boiler room. Harry investigates, aided by her crime-solving tiger cat, Mrs. Murphy. Before it's over, a physician is murdered, Harry is attacked, and Mrs. Murphy sniffs out a secret room in the hospital.
"Death of a Dustman"
By M.C. Beaton
Americans call him the garbage collector, but in Britain, he's the dustman. Hamish Macbeth's dustman is murdered in this 17th in the series starring Macbeth, constable of Lochdubh, Scotland. Dustman Fergus Macleod is an unpleasant sort whose fortunes rise -- briefly -- when a new councilwoman names him "environment officer" at double his salary. But Macleod abuses his power, issuing fines unfairly and enforcing petty rules. Soon, his body is found in a bin among the other "recyclables."
"The Skeleton in the Closet"
By M.C. Beaton
Something fishy is going on in the Dolphin family. After spending 40 unhappy years living with his miserly, miserable parents and waiting tables at a hotel, Fellworth Dolphin is suddenly rich. His parents have left him a large inheritance, but he has no idea where the money came from and why it had been hidden throughout his life. As he investigates, Fellworth becomes suspicious that his father was involved in a train robbery years ago.
-- "Flight" (Simon & Schuster) by Jan Burke. In Southern California, a police commissioner and his daughter are murdered aboard a yacht.
-- "Angel in Black" (NAL) by Max Allan Collins. Fictional detective Nathan Heller becomes involved in the real-life Black Dahlia murder in Hollywood in 1947.
-- "The Honey Trap" (St. Martin's) by Clive Egleton. British Intelligence Officer Peter Ashton investigates when a Queen's Messenger is kidnapped and murdered in Costa Rica.
-- "The Last Blue Plate Special" (Mysterious) by Abigail Padgett. Two San Diego psychologists profile the murderer of major female political leaders.
-- "Death at Epsom Downs" (Berkley) by Robin Paige. In Victorian England, a jockey dies mysteriously.
-- "Force 12" (Simon & Schuster) by James Thayer. Several mishaps befall a software billionaire's desperate attempt to win a yacht race.
-- "Heartland" (St. Martin's) by David Wiltse. A small-town sheriff asks a former Secret Service agent to help solve a double murder.
-- "Women Before the Bench" (Berkley). A collection of new courtroom tales by women, including Perri O'Shaughnessy, Margaret Coel, Margaret Maron and the book's editor, Carolyn Wheat.
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