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'Zero' Hour

Anybody who watches C-SPAN knows that life on the floor of Congress can get a little dull. So the two congressional-staffer heroes of Brad Meltzer's latest political thriller, ''The Zero Game,'' resort to brainy insider tomfoolery to spruce up the drudgery. Yet the result is murder -- and a No. 4 debut.

FICTION WEEKS ON LIST

1 THE DA VINCI CODE Dan Brown, Doubleday, $24.95 44 2 THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN Mitch Albom, 17 Hyperion, $19.95 3 ABSOLUTE FRIENDS John le Carre, Little, Brown, $26.95 2 4 THE ZERO GAME Brad Meltzer, Warner, $25.95 1 5 NEW SPRING Robert Jordan, Tor, $22.95 3 6 THE AMATEUR MARRIAGE Anne Tyler, Knopf, $24.95 3 7 RETREAT, HELL! W.E.B. Griffin, Putnam, $26.95 3 8 THE LADY AND THE UNICORN Tracy Chevalier, Dutton, $23.95 4 9 THE BIG BAD WOLF James Patterson, Little, Brown, $27.95 9 10 HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX 31 J.K. Rowling, Scholastic, $29.99

NONFICTION WEEKS ON LIST

1 THE SOUTH BEACH DIET Arthur Agatston, M.D., Rodale, $24.95 41 2 THE ULTIMATE WEIGHT SOLUTION: THE 7 KEYS TO WEIGHT LOSS 19 FREEDOM Dr. Phil McGraw, Free Press, $26 3 THE PRICE OF LOYALTY: GEORGE W. BUSH, THE WHITE HOUSE, 2 AND THE EDUCATION OF PAUL O'NEILL Ron Suskind, Simon & Schuster, $26 4 THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE Rick Warren, Zondervan, $19.99 51 5 THE AUTOMATIC MILLIONAIRE: A POWERFUL ONE-STEP PLAN TO 4 LIVE AND FINISH RICH David Bach, Broadway, $19.95 6 AMERICAN DYNASTY: ARISTOCRACY, FORTUNE, AND THE POLITICS 3 OF DECEIT IN THE HOUSE OF BUSH Kevin Phillips, Viking, $25.95 7 THE PROPER CARE & FEEDING OF HUSBANDS 3 Dr. Laura Schlessinger, HarperCollins, $24.95 8 EATING FOR LIFE: YOUR GUIDE TO GREAT HEALTH, FAT LOSS 1 AND INCREASED ENERGY Bill Phillips, High Point Media, $35 9 DUDE, WHERE'S MY COUNTRY? Michael Moore, Warner, $24.95 15 10 LIES AND THE LYING LIARS WHO TELL THEM: A FAIR AND 22 BALANCED LOOK AT THE RIGHT Al Franken, Dutton, $24.95

SOURCE: PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, WEEK OF JAN. 19-25, 2004

OPENING ACTS

[BOX]

OPENING ACTS

''Greetings. There is a body buried on your property, covered in your blood. The unfortunate young lady's name is Rita Jones.... In her jeans pocket you'll find a slip of paper with a phone number on it. You have one day to call that number. If I have not heard from you by 8:00 p.m. tomorrow (5/17), the Charlotte Police Department will receive an anonymous phone call. I'll tell them where Rita Jones is buried on Andrew Thomas's lakefront property, how he killed her, and where the murder weapon can be found in his house. (I do believe a paring knife is missing from your kitchen.)'' -- From the first chapter of Blake Crouch's thriller DESERT PLACES (Thomas Dunne, $23.95)

''I have the kind of loneliness that makes me sit too close, on purpose, to strange men on buses. Men who smell good, who read books, whose shoes are not too shiny, not too scuffed.'' -- From ''Family on Ice,'' the opening story in Jane McCafferty's collection THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC (Perennial, $12.95)

Originally posted Feb 13, 2004 Published in issue #751 Feb 13, 2004 Order article reprints
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