New fiction: "The Imperfectionists," and "When Winter Returns"

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"The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman (The Dial Press, $25)

Some years ago in Rome, I passed an ancient apartment building with the residents listed near the front door. One of the names had the title of an esteemed American newspaper beneath it, and the sight inspired the usual romantic notions of being a foreign correspondent in the fabled city.

Enter Tom Rachman, a first-time novelist with newspaper experience in Rome and Paris. Immediately the slight novel about an English-language paper in Rome gets "legs" and reviewers here in the dull old U.S.A. salivate like they are hearing a bell in the kennel.

OK, it's not that great. Pleasant, entertaining and slightly challenging, Mr. Rachman's little book tells the story of the rise and fall of an old-fashioned print publication through the stories of its various staffers.

It's really a series of charming vignettes about rather ordinary journalists and, sadly, they are more concerned about their ink-stained lives than the attractions of Rome.

The crew behaves like people who haven't an idea about how the shrinking world of print journalism might cost them their jobs.

Journalists will recognize their counterparts, but I fear the non-journalist might miss the kind of glamour and romance a story like this should have along with those stereotypes.

-- Bob Hoover,

"When Winter Returns" by Kathryn Miller Haines (HarperCollins, $14.99, paper)

Be ready to slip back into the 1940s with Kathryn Miller Haines' spunky actress heroine, Rosie Winter.

Rosie and her best pal Jayne are just back from a USO tour that took them to the South Pacific and broke their hearts -- Rosie's because her boyfriend had fallen in love with someone else and Jayne's because her fiance Billy DeMille had been killed.

Now, before going home to Manhattan, the actresses discover that their Billy wasn't Billy at all, just someone who had taken over his identity.

Nosy Rosie decides that tracking who Jayne's Billy really was would help ease Jayne's grief. Instead, the quest leads Rosie -- where else? -- into trouble.

As usual, gangsters and the "girls" at the performers-only boarding house where Rosie and Jayne live play strong supporting roles in the fourth mystery by Ms. Haines, artistic director of a Pittsburgh theater company.

As was the case in her earlier books, her careful re-creation of the pop culture and lingo of the era steal the show.

-- Pohla Smith,


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