LEXICON. By Max Barry. The Penguin Press. 400 pages. $26.95.

The power of words and the consequences of using them inappropriately are explored in fascinating ways in Max Barry’s latest novel, “Lexicon.”

A group of people known as “poets” can use specific words and phrases to compel and persuade another person to commit acts he or she normally wouldn’t think of doing.

A man named Wil gets off a plane in Portland, Ore., and is accosted in the restroom before he can pick up his luggage. The thugs ask him about what he remembers and “why did you do it?” A quick escape ends in a shootout, and Wil is kidnapped.

A young orphan girl named Emily uses her gift of manipulation to do card tricks for money on the streets of San Francisco.

Someone sees her in action and offers her a chance to change her life. She can attend a school where she can learn the ability to use words for more than just mere communication.

The story jumps back and forth between Emily’s eerie school and Wil, who has no memory of events prior to boarding the plane.

“Lexicon” is a strange combination of romance, thriller and science fiction.

The words brilliant and exemplary aren’t adequate enough to convey the amazing craft of “Lexicon.”

CRIME OF PRIVILEGE. By Walter Walker. Ballantine Books. 432 pages. $26.

How much wealth does it take to be above the law? What rules come with being a member of the privileged class? Those are among the questions posed in Walter Walker’s “Crime of Privilege.”

In 1996, a young lawyer named George Becket attends a party thrown by a friend of a friend. He watches two men take advantage of a young woman who was too drunk to stop them.

Becket intervenes before it gets ugly, and he helps her into her car. Later, when given the opportunity to tell the truth about the events of that night, he balks. Soon after, the young woman kills herself.

Twelve years later, Becket is working for the district attorney’s office.

He regrets not speaking out, but the sad truth is that he has his life and job because he kept silent.

Years earlier, a murder occurred at a country club but no promising suspects emerged. Feeling guilty for not doing the right thing at the party, Becket agrees to help the victim’s father investigate the crime.

“Crime of Privilege” strives to be a mix of Scott Turow and a family saga, but it’s a giant slog. Becket is a bit dull. As narrator, he slows things down to almost a crawl.

Too many characters and an obvious finale don’t help.

What should have been a home run is nothing more than a bloop single.

Jeff Ayers is a reporter for the Associated Press.