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'Neverwhere' never fails to please

by Neil Gaiman

Avon Books, $6.99

Review by David Mandeville

Web posted on: Thursday, February 25, 1999 1:19:19 PM

(CNN) -- This book made me late. I was supposed to meet friends in 15 minutes, and there I was, running around the house trying to get ready and get out the door at the last moment because I couldn't put the book down until I finished just one more chapter.

"Neverwhere" chronicles Richard Mayhew's misstep into a reality that exists all around us, but no one ever sees. Mayhew is an average guy with an average job who can't ignore someone in need. So as he and his fiancee go for dinner, he stops to help an injured girl they pass on the sidewalk.

Suddenly, he finds himself part of London Below, a blurry reflection where time is mutable and reality must be taken at face value. His real life, the one in London Above, is gone. His friends and fiancee don't know him, another couple lives in his apartment, and his job doesn't exist.

His only chance to return to his life is helping the Door, the injured girl, solve the mystery of her family's murder.

The plot is pretty standard fantasy fare -- a great quest, with the unusual setting of modern London. But Gaiman's just-south-of-real storytelling never falls into the formula rut. His quirky characters and odd circumstances draw the reader in to the tale. Astute readers may guess how this book ends, but discovering how it reaches that conclusion will keep you turning pages as fast as you can.

Comic book fans know Gaiman from his award-winning efforts on DC Comics' "The Sandman." Lucky book lovers have read "Good Omens," his collaboration with Terry Pratchett. If you aren't familiar with either of those, you're in for a treat. If you have, you won't be disappointed.

David Mandeville is a webmaster who lives in Atlanta.

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