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Blood Done Sign My Name
By Timothy B. Tyson
Crown, $24

On a May evening in 1970, Robert Teel and his elder sons -- three white men -- shot dead African-American army veteran Henry Marrow in the streets of Oxford, North Carolina. The following evening, as black rioters prepared to sweep through the town center, another of Teel's sons announced to his bewildered ten-year-old playmate, Timothy Tyson, "Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger." Years later, Tyson returned to Oxford to interview residents and dig through courthouse records about the events that prompted those words. His research reveals a side of the civil rights struggle that America prefers to forget. In towns like Oxford, social progress was a violent business. Black rioters overturned police cars; teenagers prowled the streets with firebombs; Vietnam vets plotted assaults on local tobacco warehouses. In the interest of full disclosure, Tyson adds several chapters (perhaps too many) on his own family's struggles with the race question. His father, a prominent Methodist preacher and a tireless integrationist, firmly believed in nonviolence. But Tyson argues that only the threat of all-out race war scared sense into white America. As one former black militant in the book puts it, "A lot of what we did was wrong ... but it worked." --Chris ulbrich

Taking Our Places
By Norman Fischer
Harper San Francisco, $13.95

Although Fischer is a Zen priest, the former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, this volume -- subtitled "The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up" -- is not written for those who are practicing Zen or, in fact, practicing any faith in particular. It is written for those engaged in the struggle to become adults and who will eventually "take their places" in the world. Addressing readers of all ages who realize how misplaced they have been, Fischer rethinks standard preconceptions as he writes eloquently of his own spiritual journey and of mentoring four adolescent boys in his Zen community, for whom he creates practices aimed at helping them achieve maturity. We follow them for two years; even at their age, the boys are aware that decisions have consequences and they show Fischer what he himself was incapable of seeing at their age: the beauty of youth straining to grow. He realizes, watching them, that the world in which he grew up no longer exists: that young people today desperately need role models who can be peacemakers, first of all for themselves, and then for their families. Anger and despair do us no good; self-forgiveness and self-acceptance will allow us, Fischer avers, to really claim our places in the world. A lifetime of unacknowledged conflict and suffering can have immense and tragic consequences, but embarking mindfully on the journey toward maturity -- an adventure, Fischer calls it -- can bring rich and immense rewards. --David L. Miner

Flesh and Blood
By John Harvey
Carroll & Graf, $25

This thriller's fallen hero, Frank Elder, is a hard-bitten former detective living in remote Cornwall, where he meets his need for companionship by playing the radio loudly -- "anxious for the sound of voices." Having left his post with the Nottinghamshire Major Crime Unit years earlier, Elder is pulled out of retirement by the release of Shane Donald, a damaged thirty-year-old imprisoned long ago for the brutal murder of a young girl. When Donald flees his halfway house and another girl goes missing, an unsolved case from Elder's past begins to consume him, and the story succumbs to a torrent of derivative plot twists and eleventh-hour clichés. Harvey's ubiquitous cultural references -- the probation officer carrying a copy of How to Be Good, the college kids blasting Coldplay -- are a transparent and distracting effort to set the story firmly in the present. Still, this is ultimately a stylish page-turner doubling as a meditation on suffering, survival, and the cycle of abuse. Harvey's portrayal of Elder is a picturesque vision of loneliness, and his passages on Donald and his partner in crime, Alan McKiernan, convey a strong sense of violent eroticism. "Hope dies hard and sometimes fast," Harvey writes as the book's painful conclusion draws near. It's a nonsensical bit of phrasing, and yet it aptly conjures up an image of lost souls causing themselves even more pain by clinging to the promise of paths not taken. --Blair Campbell

Bad Grass Never Dies
By Chuck Barris
Carroll & Graf, $14

Barris' 1982 "unauthorized biography," Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, should have been a typical rags-to-riches story about how an ordinary boy from South Philly made millions creating such TV schlock as The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show. But never one to do anything without an innate flair for the ridiculous, Barris added one teensy-weensy twist to attract readers: He introduced his alter ego, Sunny Sixkiller, a CIA assassin so skilled at whacking that, as Barris tells it, he was decorated by US presidents. Taken as fact, it seemed ludicrous that a high-profile TV personality could skulk about knocking off international terrorists unnoticed; taken with a wink and a smirk, however, it was a rip-roaringly fun and ultimately cinema-friendly yarn. This sequel, which is subtitled "More Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" and picks up where the first book left off, is just as weird. After being laughed out of Los Angeles when his shows' ratings tanked bigtime, Barris fled to France, where he lived the good life while supposedly continuing his murderous ways. In one typical episode, he killed an Egyptian bioterrorist on a public bench, then left her body there for twenty minutes while he retrieved his car. Barris is a skilled storyteller, and in this marriage of Spy vs. Spy and Entertainment Tonight, the CIA, Hollywood wunderkinder, and stuffy NYC publishing types all get gonged with equal relish. --Vicki Cameron

Sunshine Patriots
By Bill Campbell
Hats Off, $17.95

Future Earth is ruled by a globe-spanning corporate plutocracy. Rebellion breaks out on a distant colony planet. Earth sends battle-hardened space marines, all poor kids culled from global slums and drafted into service, to crush the rebellion. With that set-up, Sunshine Patriots could be either a blood-'n'-guts military adventure or a poignant social satire about wealth and privilege. Unfortunately, it tries to be both and ends up being neither: It's too plodding to be a good adventure, and too frenetic to be a good satire. The soldiers are all dull tough-guy caricatures who should be familiar from every Vietnam/World War II flick ever made, but the satire wouldn't be complete unless the enemy turned out to be a harmless manufactured threat. The rebellious miners, of course, are really naturally peaceful villagers who follow a hazy quasireligion with the phony-sounding name of "The Be." Its adherents blather about how all people are connected as in some sort of hippie hivemind. It gets old very fast. Campbell's soldiers speak in a confusing forced slang, but even worse is the author's own ludicrously melodramatic narration. Like a high schooler who has just discovered a thesaurus, he lays on fancy adjectives and roundabout descriptions. A soldier can't just step in blood; he has to land in a "sanguinary puddle." Campbell has some interesting ideas -- the soldiers have biomechanical weapon implants that run on body waste -- but readers will spend more time parsing his tangled prose than reflecting on his message. --Mike Rosen-Molina

Country of Origin
By Don Lee
W.W. Norton, $24.95

Washed up in Tokyo in 1980, being of mixed race but looking native Japanese, some of the characters in this atmospheric debut novel fall prey to a dazzling cultural vertigo. They almost blend into the mainstream with their near-fluent Japanese, yet they're not accepted. As a result, they lurk through the days with a nagging sense of betrayal. As the action opens, an American woman named Lisa Countryman goes missing and men from the police and diplomatic service fan out across the city to find her. This search zigzags from downtown shopfronts to the seedy red-light district -- the last resort for unemployed American women. Involved in the hunt is Tom Hurley, an arrogant Korean-American foreign service officer who crabwalks into an affair with a blue-blooded American who happens to be married to a CIA mole. And there's Kenzo Ota, an obsessive-compulsive Japanese cop who, like Tom, is tasked with the job of finding this missing American. Unlike the Tokyo in David Mitchell's Number9dream, or, say, one of Haruki Murakami's novels, Lee's city is not a 21st-century drug and light show. His is an altogether older and more sinister city, where the Japanese mafia has a stranglehold on money and police forces operate more like a fraternity than a security outfit. A patina of modernity sits lightly atop all this. Lee slowly peels back this skin to reveal Tokyo's unbeautiful underbelly, and the sad souls who truly find themselves lost in translation there. -- John Freeman

Survival of the Coolest
By William Pryor
Clear, $19.95

Pryor got hooked on heroin when he was eighteen and struggled with a twelve-year habit until he bottomed out at age thirty -- a harrowing story, but one that would hardly merit a book if he weren't the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, the British naturalist whose work formed the basis of modern evolutionary theory. Pryor's memoir of addiction and recovery attempts to penetrate the heart not just of his own substance abuse, but of addiction in all its forms. His key insights -- that addiction fills an emotional void: in his case, the one left by his cold, detached upbringing and the unrealistic expectations genetics foisted upon him -- aren't revolutionary, but he uses them to effectively illustrate the futility of the government-sanctioned "war on drugs." While Pryor's unflinching self-reflection is inspiring, it is his stories of his days as an upper-class hipster moving through swinging-'60s England (he counted author Alex Trocchi and members of Pink Floyd among his friends) that keep the pages turning. Since getting sober thirty years ago, Pryor has pursued entrepreneurial ventures -- including founding Airlift Book Co., a leading distributor of independent publishers -- but since 9/11, he has devoted himself to writing and speaking about the mental distress that fuels addiction. Entertaining, thought-provoking, and ultimately uplifting, it's a tell-all worth listening to. -- Michael Ansaldo

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