Gregory Kirschling
November 21, 2003 AT 05:00 AM EST

After depicting gamblers in ”Oscar and Lucinda” and outlaws in ”True History of the Kelly Gang,” two-time Booker Prize winner Carey populates his new novel with two old poets and the editor of a London literary review. However unexciting that sounds, the book actually gets off to a rip-roaring start — soon the lit types are mired in scandal, kidnapping, and murder in the unbookish tropics of Malaysia. The plot concerns the editor’s discovery of a batch of poems ”worth being born for,” and boasting a helluva backstory. Where did they come from, and who is this hulking Frankenstein’s monster-type figure who insists they’re his? These questions draw you through the book at a clip, but the unsatisfying answers — or lack thereof — take some of the force out of an otherwise gripping read.

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