he Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark (Penguin, $20). A Scottish migrant overturns the life of an English factory town in this short, sharp little novel. Working to swindle two competing nylon manufacturers, he sows havoc among the employees of both firms while coming to the private conclusion that he might be the Devil.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (Penguin, $14). The Devil, a giant black house cat, and a cadre of evil dilettantes arrive in Moscow together in the early years of Communist rule. Trouble is, everyone in the city claims to be atheist, and it can be mighty hard to get noticed. A hilarious, stunning, absurd book. One of my favorites.
Under the Dome by Stephen King (Pocket, $20). A tiny Maine town becomes a microcosm of post-9/11 America when a giant, impenetrable force field suddenly traps its residents and compels them to confront the evil that was among them all along. A sprawling, gleefully bloody book about what can happen when the mask of the silent majority slips just a bit.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (Random House, $16). Rushdie’s epic and hilarious parable about cultural assimilation follows the metamorphoses of two men who fall from a plane and wash up on the shores of England. One becomes a devil, the other the angel Gibreel. Butterflies swarm, a prophet considers, a jihadist sees visions, and everything ensues.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (Harper, $16). Though down-at-the-heels and long in the tooth, old gods can still rob banks, seduce cash-register girls, hold (or lose) their liquor, and connive with gleeful, rollicking abandon. And all of it happens in the vastness of America, from its roadside attractions to its casinos and empty highways.
Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco (Mariner, $16). Religious conspiracy and personal delusion envelop three men as they invent, and then become victims of, a grand, Templar-centered scheme they name “The Plan.” Here the supernatural may only be imagined, but when you imagine a monster completely enough, who’s to say it can’t bite you back?
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