EYES OF THE DRAGON, by Stephen King (Viking, $18.95). With three novels on this list, one repeating from last year, the prolific Stephen King has pulled a hat trick. In first place is the novel that King wrote for his daughter, who complained that she wasn't interested in his usual tales of terror. Eyes of the Dragon was his response. The sensibility is definitely King's, though there are few of the scarifying elements that made him famous. But at bottom this is a charming old-fashioned fairy tale about the struggle of a falsely-imprisoned heir to the throne to recover his kingdom.
WINDMILLS OF THE GODS, by Sidney Sheldon (Morrow, $18.95). Time was when Sheldon was more cheerful, as when he co-authored that unforgettable Fred Astaire-Judy Garland film, Easter Parade. But nowadays before the spellbound reader can work a decent crease into the cover of a Sheldon paperback one of his heroines has probably been defrauded, defrocked, deflowered, kidnaped and blackmailed -- in this case Mary Ashley who winds up ensnared in intrigues that stretch from Europe to the White House.
PRESUMED INNOCENT, by Scott Turow (Farrar Straus Giroux, $18.95). Scott Turow proves that it's possible to be good and popular at the same time. This first novel about a young lawyer unfairly accused of the murder of his mistress is certainly the proverbial good read, but it's also smart and serious: an inquiry into the shortcomings of the system of justice that is knowledgeable -- the author practices law in Chicago -- and clear-headed. As if that weren't enough, it's also handsomely written.
RED STORM RISING, by Tom Clancy (Putnam, $19.95). Oh, the ships do sail and planes do fly and the guns go bang. It's old Clancy's band again, and the tune is World War III. Do the Yanks win? What happens is this: the Politburo starts a war in Central Europe as a preliminary to grabbing the Persian Gulf oilfields. NATO resists and a conventional war is fought on land, sea and air. Clancy, as usual, is awfully good on hardware, but critics wondered whether or not the real McCoy wouldn't result in nuclear escalation.
FINE THINGS, by Danielle Steel (Delacorte, $18.95). Once upon a time Danielle Steel wrote press releases for the clients of a New York PR firm, Supergirls. Many years and books later, Steel, with more than 55 million copies of her novels in print, has brought dozens of "supergirl" heroines to life. What Steel understands is that modern life, just like the past, is rife with challenges for lovers. Bernie Fine of Fine Things is representative: having made it to the top, Fine now finds its lonely there. All in all, Steel's heroines want no more than what Freud said any adult needs to be happy -- love and work.
PATRIOT GAMES, by Tom Clancy (Putnam, $19.95). Jack Ryan, an ex-U.S. Marine who teaches history at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, is walking across St. James's Park in London when the I.R.A. tries to gun down the Prince and Princess of Wales. Well, did you think Ryan was going to turn around and run? Of course not. He does what any Leatherneck would do, and the next thing you know Charles and Di are in his backyard in Annapolis for a cookout. The I.R.A. gunmen reappear, and Ryan has to square things away again. Semper Fi and Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense, together at last.
MISERY, by Stephen King (Viking, $18.95). Reminiscent of John Fowles' The Collector, this is as mainstream a work as King has ever written. The book concerns a writer of romance novels, one Paul Sheldon, who crashes his car during a Colorado snowstorm. A registered nurse named Annie Wilkes rescues him. The problem is that Annie is his greatest fan, and Paul has just killed off her favorite character. Seriously injured, Paul is at Wilke's mercy, and she won't let him go until he writes another novel bringing the character back to life.
THE HAUNTED MESA, by Louis L'Amour (Bantam, $18.95). In recent years Louis L'Amour has taken his well-known storytelling skills and applied them to other genres besides the western. In The Haunted Mesa, L'Amour blends his interest in Native American lore with the supernatural fantasy of Stephen King. His modern-day protagonist Mike Raglan, answering the call of an old friend, discovers that certain holes, called sipapu, built in ceremonial chambers of Indian ruins, provide portals to other times, maybe even other worlds. Sinister beings pass through the sipapu. Raglan's friend has disappeared, and may be held prisoner. Naturally, L'Amour's hero must go the rescue.
IT, by Stephen King (Viking, $22.95). There's so much in this novel -- so many deaths, disasters and demons -- that it might have been cheaper sold by the pound. Amidst the verbiage and the self-propagating excess, however, the book affords some marvelous glimpses into the world of children. The story is simple: In 1958, a band of seven children -- six boys and a girl -- defeat an evil that lives beneath their town of Derry, Maine. Twenty-seven years later, "It" awakens, and the six of the band who are left -- now adults -- return. What makes this a little more than just a routine horror story is that it's also about adults coming to terms with childhood demons and horrors.
BELOVED, by Toni Morrison (Knopf, 18.95). Morrison enjoyed popular success with two of her four previous novels, Song of Solomon and Tar Baby, but with Beloved she joined the slender ranks of writers who become household names. She also found herself in a spot of controversy: Beloved was the odds-on favorite to win the National Book Award, but was nosed out in the autumnal competition by a what had been thought an unlikely contender -- Larry Heineman's Paco's Song.