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There are no accidents in Ian McEwan’s mercilessly plotted novelsreally books of ideas disguised as thrillersjust horrors extreme and banal, carefully layered with themes and symbols. In clumsier hands, his novels’ narrative hooks are the stuff of potboilers and penny dreadfulsthe corpse in the basement, the kidnapped child, monstrous dogs, the obsessed stalkerwhich explains, perhaps, why critics’ darling McEwan rarely wins awards for his literature. After getting short-listed and then short-sheeted twice by the Booker Prize judges, he has finally received it for his latest, Amsterdam. Short, bitter, and cruel, Amsterdam is a sick joke shared between two aging friends, a composer and a newspaper editor, who set out to destroy each other. Slighter than his other novels, it is nonetheless gripping, boiling over with the author’s ruminations on mortality and friendship. McEwan reads from and signs copies of Amsterdam at 7:00 p.m. at the National Press Club Ballroom, 14th & F Sts. NW. $5. (202) 347-3686. (RAS)