By Harry Dolan (Penguin, $24.95, 352 pages)

"Plans go wrong, bad things happen, people die." That's the formula for stories in Gray Streets, a small mystery magazine, in which David Loogan gets a story published. The magazine's publisher befriends Loogan, a charming stranger living in a rented house in Ann Arbor, Mich., and introduces him to his stable of mystery writers. Then Loogan's life begins to take on that story line -- plans go wrong, bad things happen, people die. Perhaps he should have refused when the publisher called and asked him to bring over a shovel. Soon he's a murder suspect. Despairing that the police won't be able to solve the case, he goes underground and tries to catch the killer. Along the way, characters poke fun at predictable mystery plots and the relationship between writers and editors. "Bad editing is a weak motive for murder ... though in the heat of the moment, it can often seem otherwise." It's tightly written, slyly funny and cleverly plotted. Chores can wait. You should read this book.

SHARON KESSLER, news copy editor


By Sebastian Stuart (Alyson Books, $14.95, 248 pages)

It's 1967 at Spooner, a boarding school for rich misfit kids, and it's Arthur MacDougal's last chance to redeem himself with his country-club-set parents. Arthur, who's insecure, "blander than white bread" and in the closet, practically falls over when Katrina Felt, the precocious, glamorous daughter of an aging Hollywood star, adopts him as her new best friend. Katrina instantly knows Arthur's gay, which brings him a freedom he's never known before. The year of self-exploration and secrets is beset by teen angst in the Age of Aquarius, and the dialogue among the characters is so breezy and witty that it sometimes borders on caricature (Andy Warhol and Roddy McDowell make appearances, if that's any indication). But many moments of vulnerability and tenderness emerge, making you care about Arthur, if not anyone else in the book.