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In 2002, English novelist Martin Amis brought us the nonfiction Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million, the shocking thesis of which was that Joseph Stalin was a real bastard. Now the bad boy with the bad teeth has critics circling with his new novel, Yellow Dog. (Fellow Brit Tibor Fischer compared the experience of reading it to “your favourite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating.”) It’s really not as bad as all that: If the intertwined (and infelicitously resolved) mysteries at the heart of Yellow Dog don’t keep you reading, Amis’ gymnastic way with the English language will. But the book is also enough of a train wreckor, in keeping with one its many subplots, a plane crashto make one wonder whether Amis’ much-publicized new choppers and looted wife haven’t left him a bit loopy. Yellow Dog opens with successful writer, actor, and paragon of uxoriousness Xan Meo getting his skull bashed in. The attack leaves Xan a changed man, and Amiswho’s always had a knack for drawing human brutestakes queasy delight in describing the character’s sudden descent into a savagery that includes an unhealthy interest in his own 4-year-old daughter. But whereas the old Amis was a merciless satirist with nary a speck of hope for the human species, the new one seems to want it both ways. The result is a book that seems to have been written by two people: Jekyll and Hyde. Amis reads at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7, at Olsson’s Books & Records, 1200 F St. NW. Free. (202) 347-3686. (Michael Little)