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issue: 02/15/2000

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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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Carl Hiaasen's Sick Puppy and Michael Connelly's Void Moon
reviewed by Scott Butki

sick puppy
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Carl Hiaasen is a weird, sick, hilarious guy and his new novel, Sick Puppy, is aptly titled.

Michael Connelly, in contrast, is a promising writer who tries to write great thrillers but doesn't quite succeed with his latest effort. Sick Puppy's hero, if you want to call him that, is Twilly Spree, a rich, weird young man who is so passionate about doing right that he often does, well, wrong.

So when he sees rich Florida lobbyist Palmer Stout littering while driving, Spree thinks nothing of putting dung beetles in Stout's car. And when he realizes that Stout is involved in plans to turn a wilderness island into a residential development Spree gets even more pissed and kidnaps Stout's dog, Boodle.

Yes, Spree is one sick puppy.

But he's also an appealing character who is just outraged at how people treat animals and the environment.

And so when Stout's wife, sick of her husband's obsessions with cigars and taking polaroids of the two of them having sex, gets to know Spree she has an unusual request: She wants to be kidnapped too. And off the book goes in many wacky directions at once.

Some of the book's characters are new, including a prostitute who only has sex with Republicans, and a male lobbyist who has an obsession with Barbie dolls. But others are recurring from earlier Hiaasen masterpieces.

A former Florida governor named Skink, who now lives in the woods, is blackmailed by the present governor and forced to try to track down and catch Spree. This despite Spree and the former governor having much in common, namely environmental activism and being a few tacos short of a Mexican combo platter.

Yes, this is not your normal book. It's unusual, oft hilarious and good fun. Expect that people will look at you weird as you chuckle while reading it.


void moon
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Connelly's book isn't funny but it's not supposed to be. Unfortunately it's not the exciting thriller Connelly wants either.

Six years ago Cassie Black was forced to quit her job pulling cons in Las Vegas when her partner, boyfriend and mentor was caught and killed while doing a job at a Vegas casino.

Black went to jail as an accomplice and as the book starts she has been out of jail for less than 10 months. Black is now restless and finding that selling Porsches in Hollywood just doesn't have the same adrenaline rush or bring the same thrills to her as a life of crime did. So she now decides to go back in Vegas, trying to do one large job and than leave the world of crime behind forever.

Her mark, the target, is a guy with a briefcase containing about $600,000. She has the equipment to break into his room and steal the loot before he wakes.

An old friend, the guy who gives her the tip on the con, made a simple request before she left: Avoid the void moon, which he says is a bad astrological situation There was a void moon when her partner was killed, he adds. In this case the void moon comes for an hour while her mark is sleeping.

But due to some surprises, she didn't obey that request and, of course, all hell breaks loose.

She soon realizes there was much she did not know about the situation - how much was really in the case, where the key was and whose money it really was.

But around the time she starts to realize she hasn't been clued into the whole scheme the reader realizes the poor schmuck is now dead (and we don't know if she did it) and casino officials are going to stop at nothing to get it back.

Connelly, a former Los Angeles Times crime reporter, is a writer with great potential but his last few books, including this one, don't meet the suspense, depth and creativity of his far better, breakthrough book, The Poet.

If you want to read a great thriller, check out that one. If you want a less impressive, though quick read, then read "Void Moon."

Scott Butki is a government reporter in Hagerstown, Md. During the winter he hunkers down in bed and reads a lot.


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