Reynolds again hits pay dirt with a third novel, after Bitterroot Landing (1995) and The Rapture of Canaan (1996)--the latter, as everyone knows, a recent selection of Oprah's Book Club and now enjoying its fifth week at the top of the bestseller lists. As a four-year-old, Finch Nobles pulled boiling water off the stove onto herself; as a result, she's badly scarred, and her appearance makes her a kind of outcast in her small southern town. Her father tended the graveyard, and following his death and her mother's, Finch has inherited the job of gravekeeper, with all its solemn duties. Unsurprisingly, the wise Finch begins welcoming and chatting with the newly planted, whose spirits rise and respond. There's beauty queen Lucy Armour, who escapes the confines of the town hut dies mysteriously and is shipped home. Did she commit suicide? There's also William Parker Blott, who left his family, became a filthy, sore-ridden streetbum, but later returned home to money and a mausoleum. As Finch sees it, in a passage that resounds with Francis Phelan's view into his dead son's grave in Ironweed, The Dead possess unique powers and knowledge: ""The Dead control the seasons. Everything depends on them. In June, The Dead tunnel earthworms, crack the shells of bird eggs, poke the croaks from frogs. The ones who died children make play of their work, blowing bugs from weed to weed, aerating fields with their cartwheels. They thump the bees and send them out to pollinate gardenias."" When The Dead lighten up enough, by learning to let the past go, The Mediator allows them to rise to a level past Finch's knowing. But Marcus, the Mayor's baby, who died of ""failure to thrive,"" can't stop bawling. The slender plot hinges on the story of his death and Finch's loving attempts to free his spirit. A southern tearjerker with some nice surprises--and likely to be a swift success.