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“Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake.”

— E. L. Doctorow

Reviews

In the Forest of Harm, by Sallie Bissell (Bantam, 2001)

Deliverance author James Dickey once noted that one of life’s most terrifying experiences is to be set upon by strangers.

Sallie Bissell’s debut novel, In the Forest of Harm, seconds this awful truth. But instead of the late Dickey’s hapless foursome schlepping down the river, we get three women attorneys venturing into the wild woods.

Constructed from alternating points of view, Bissell’s book evinces the grit of more-seasoned pros like Patricia Cornwell or Sue Grafton. After winning a major case, successful Assistant D.A. Mary “Killer” Crow embarks on a hiking and camping trip with two of her best buds, seeking a little R&R in the heart of the Nantahala Forest.

But the journey really starts in Mary’s hometown of Little Jump Off, N.C. The action builds slowly but steadily as Bissell introduces each of her major characters — Joan and Alex, Mary’s best friends; Jonathan Walkingstick, her first lover, who still lives in Little Jump Off; Henry Brank, a lustful wild man with a pet snake; and Lou Delgado, a private investigator hot on Mary’s trail.

From the prologue to the slam-bang ending, Bissell rarely falters in luring her readers deeper into The Forest of Harm. There’s a lot to like about Bissell’s characters — and a few things to hate. But the book fits all the traditions of a classic suspense thriller, which will naturally leave readers wanting more.

Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta better make room for Mary Crow at their dinner party — because she’s going to stick around.

[Sallie Bissell divides her time between her hometown of Nashville, Tenn. and Western North Carolina, where she still makes trips into the Nantahala National Forest. She is at work on her second Mary Crow novel, to be published next year.]

Bissell will sign copies of her book at Hendersonville’s Mountain Lore Bookstore on Saturday, Feb. 24, starting at 1 p.m. Call (828) 693-5096 for more info.

The Train to Port Arthur and Other Stories, by L.M. Young, (Peony Press, 2000)

A certain beautiful madness marks the stories in L.M. Young’s debut book. Her words are like hailstones on a tin roof — all too true. Young tells of murder and betrayal, of unrequited love, of 40-year-old orphans and aging blond bombshells. Often she touches on the unspeakable. In “Witness,” we meet Georgina Rowe Huskins Bojanian — the wife of a recently murdered man:

“It took me one year, three months, two weeks, two days and six hours to raise enough money to pay for the cruise on the Santa Anna Gambling Boat — I bet you can’t guess how many burgers I flipped and dogs I roasted, how many cokes I served, how many fries I incinerated to get that kind of dough … You think I’m just some white-trash bitch? No down-home blond bomb like me, five feet six, stacked, near fifty, looking thirty, can get away with what I got away with and be dumb. You see, I set out to kill Harry and get away with it.”

Throughout these 14 short stories, the voices of Young’s characters cry out for attention. And they get it. These are not happy tales, nor are they always satisfying — there is often an incompleteness to them. But the prose is frequently like a razor to the throat.

[L.M. Young was born and raised in southwestern Louisiana and lives near Asheville. She will read from The Train to Port Arthur at Malaprop’s on Sunday, March 4, beginning at 3 p.m. Call 254-6734 for more info.]

Events

Saturday, Feb. 10, Barnes & Noble: Asheville resident Brian Biro discusses his book, Beyond Success. 2 p.m. (828) 296-9330.

Sunday, Feb. 11, Malaprop’s: Sam Venable discusses his book, Mountain Hands: A Portrait of Southern Appalachia. 3 p.m. 254-6734.

Sunday, Feb. 12, Family Christian Bookstore, Innsbruck Mall: Tommy Tenney signs copies of his book, The God Catchers: Experiencing the Manifest Presence of God. 12 p.m. 252-3500.

Saturday, Feb. 17, Barnes & Noble: Flat Rock resident Bruce Gamble discusses and signs copies of his biography, Black Sheep One: The Life of Gregory “Pappy” Boyington. 2 p.m.

Sunday, Feb. 18, Malaprop’s: Writers at Home, a monthly series of readings by local writers, meets in the cafe. February’s writers: Richard Schmidt and Ann Turkle. The event is hosted by author and UNCA instructor Tommy Hays. 3 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 23, Malaprop’s: Jeff Alt discusses his new book, A Walk for Sunshine: A 2,160 Mile Expedition for Charity on the Appalachian Trail. 7 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 24, Mountain Lore Bookstore in Hendersonville: Sallie Bissell signs copies of her novel, In the Forest of Harm. 1 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 24, Malaprop’s: Nikki Smith, vice president of Carolina Women’s Partnership, leads a panel of local contributors to the books The Long Way Around: How 34 Women Found the Lives they Love and The Secret to Their Success: How 33 Women Made their Dreams Come True. 7 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 24, Barnes & Noble: Asheville resident Norm Bommer discusses his book, Sons of the River. 2 p.m.

Sunday, Feb. 25, Malaprop’s: Steve Holt reads from his collection of poetry, Late Mowing. 3 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 28, West Asheville Library: Barbara Rhymes leads the first of a free, five-part reading and discussion series called “One Vision, Many Voices: Latino Literature in the United States.” On Feb. 28, Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies will be discussed. Preregistration required. 251-4990.

Friday, March 2, Malaprop’s: Thomas Cahill reads from his new work, Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus. Co-sponsored by Jubilee! 7 p.m.

Sunday, March 4, Malaprop’s: L.M. Young reads from her collection of stories, The Train to Port Arthur. 3 p.m.

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