Emily Mead
September 26, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

If the 713-page length is any measure, MacDonald more than earns her reported million-dollar advance for this follow-up to ”Fall on Your Knees,” her Oprah-approved, best-selling 1996 debut. But as with ”Fall,” early parts of ”Crow” read like a history lesson — instructive, but about as exciting as a Royal Canadian Air Force base in peacetime. Which is exactly where the McCarthy family (wing commander Jack, French Canadian wife Mimi, and kids Mike and Madeleine) is posted in orderly early-’60s coziness — until the arrival of a Soviet scientist defector and the strangling death of a local schoolgirl shatter the idyll. By incorporating the epic history of the Cold War and the space race into an otherwise tightly focused story, MacDonald brings a tumultuous time palpably to life — despite a painfully slow start.

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