hat if you dreamed of becoming a writer, slaved for months over a novel, only to discover that it's your law school roommate who has crafted a fantastic debut story? His book is a perfect page-turner with one catch: it's about you and your life experiences. What do you do? Probably nothing. It's a free country and he stole your thoughts fair and square. Anyone foolish enough to broadcast their life experiences to the world probably deserves to have them stolen anyway, right? OK, suppose the roommate dies in a bike accident before he can publish the book. Would you put your name on it and pretend it's yours? In About the Author, Cal Cunningham does exactly that, earning $2 million in publishing and motion picture advances as the autobiography shoots to the top of the bestseller lists. But as compelling as that plot line is, it only gets you through the first 38 pages of this richly textured novel. Before you know what has happened, you are transported from a touchy-feely, literary introspective to a first-rate thriller, as Cal realizes that someone knows about his secret.

In his first novel, author John Colapinto, who has a nonfiction book and numerous magazine articles to his credit, has created a world with characters so interesting that when you finish the book, you want them to return. Desperate to hang on to his success, Cal meets with drug dealers, generation-X lesbians, psychotic killers and New England villagers who seem to have been bused in from another century.

A thinking person's thriller, About the Authorcontains plenty of action, but it is complemented by superb character development and an impeccable sense of dramatic timing. Colapinto never hits the reader in the face with moral issues, but they are inescapable. We're helplessly drawn into Cal's first person adventures as he tries to save the life that was never really his. A thriller with knowing psychological insights, About the Author looks at the deeper issues of identity and the meaning of success. I don't know if Colapinto is the best new novelist to debut this year, but if he isn't, he is pretty darned close.

James L. Dickerson's most recent books are Colonel Tom Parker and Faith Hill: Piece of My Heart, both published this year.

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