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VLS Beach Reads: Detectives, drugs, denim, and an unusually high number of birds

By Patrick Neate
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 323 pp., $24
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As one of the titular birds of Patrick Neate's fetching third novel observes, the very term pigeonholing suggests humans "have no talent for a precise metaphor." Maybe, but that doesn't mean we won't try. Under a war waged in the skies by pigeon factions over a scrap of fried chicken, a group of thirtysomething Londoners struggle with aging, failing, and the attendant attempts to clarify thought and position. Is a poet's vow to stop writing at 30 "indisputable artistic integrity" or just "premature"? In a postmodern London of logos and logoi, such questions matter, driving careers, relationships, and a bank heist botched in equal measure. For pigeons at war, words begin and end with "fuck off." But even the birds suspect there's more, making them the true charmers, and heartbreakers, of Neate's novel: "Why should language linger when there's not one geez to gather my gregariousness, no coochie with whom to coo coyly, and not even a squib to squawk at?" P.F.

illustration: Anthony Freda

By Donald E. Westlake
Forge/Otto Penzler Presents, 268 pp., $14.95
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Fred Fitch, the gullible narrator of Westlake's 1967 novel, receives 300 grand from an uncle he's never met—and then his problems really begin. Sniped at, seduced, and ceaselessly solicited, Fred wises up just enough to keep his life, not to mention his loot. A neighbor fishes for some Fitch funding to self-publish his neglected masterpiece, Veni Vidi Vici Through Air Power, a book that asks one burning question: What if Julius Caesar had had access to a couple of biplanes? Fred himself recalls—or foreshadows—Charles Portis's Dog of the South übernebbish, Ray Midge, prone as he is to wonderfully absurd digressions that you can't help but read aloud: "I wanted to call him Ralph, I really wanted to call him Ralph. I wanted to start my answer with Ralph and end my answer with Ralph and put Ralphs in here and there in the middle of the answer, and answer only in words which were anagrams of Ralph." E.P.

By David Sedaris
Little, Brown, 257 pp., $24.95
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Sedaris sells out auditoriums, but in his essays he remains an outsider—his family still considers him "the one most likely to set your house on fire." Their skepticism seems fair given his new collection, which might be called Dress Your Family (and All of Humanity) in the Ugliest Light Possible. His sometimes affectionate, usually dark insights might be troubling if they weren't so damn funny: Young David's encounter with oddball neighbors in "Us and Them" leaves him with a sharp, but fleeting, negative picture of himself. "Were this the only image in the world, you'd be forced to give it your full attention," he concludes, "but fortunately there were others." Fans will recognize these pieces from their magazine appearances, but the opportunity to reread them minus all the Nautica ads makes Dress worth tossing in your beach tote. MOLLIE WILSON

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