PALINDROME.Stuart Woods.HarperCollins.344 pages...

BOOK BRIEFS

March 31, 1991|By GARY ROEN MALCOLM FORBES. Christopher Winans. St. Martin's. 227 pages. $19.95.

PALINDROME.

Stuart Woods.

HarperCollins.

344 pages. $19.95.

Stuart Woods, the author of "Chiefs," outdoes himself with his newest chilling tale of a marriage gone bad. As the novel opens, Liz Barwick, a beautiful young photographer, has been battered for the last time by her husband, a star in the National Football League. She sues for divorce, wins the case, and with little

resistance collects a large settlement. Now she tries to put her life back in order by accepting a photo assignment to do a book on an idyllic island off the coast of Georgia. Fearful of retaliation by her ex-husband, she is so secretive no one knows where she has gone.

Back on the mainland, one by one her attorney, book publisher and others mysteriously die. Liz becomes convinced that her TTC ex-husband is responsible and she calls authorities to tell them other suspicions. Since the deaths had not been suspect they grudgingly investigate, only to find one of the nicest fellows ever to play football. How could he kill anyone? Also the ex-husband has alibis for every case, even though he was in the same cities at the same time.

Although the novel is filled with elements of the Gothic as well as being a good detective adventure, it reflects what often happens when two people divorce. Mr. Woods' books have gotten better and better, and he has written his best. Malcolm Forbes was admired as one of the most successful and glamorous businessmen, until the tabloids alleged that he was gay and that he had died of AIDS. They were right on the first count and wrong on the second -- Forbes died in his sleep in February 1990.

Forbes made other headlines with his $2 million weekend birthday orgy and his friendship with movie star Elizabeth Taylor. He seemed never to be absorbed in his work and claimed to have achieved his wealth ($1 billion) by "sheer ability -- spelled i-n-h-e-r-i-t-a-n-c-e." In truth, Forbes would gain full control of Forbes Inc. and soon would own 100 percent of the corporation: "not having to answer to one single stockholder was essential to accommodate Malcolm's passion for complete freedom within his universe." The catch phrase "Forbes: Capitalist Tool" would last for decades.

Despite his brilliance at business, Forbes was generally loved by his family and friends for his "childlike capacity for all kinds of pleasures. . . . he played hard at the game of making money and having fun. . . . When the end came Malcolm Stevenson Forbes had become the world's biggest kid."

BARBARA SAMSON MILLS

THE SPOTTED CATS.

William G. Tapply.

Delacorte.

256 pages. $17.95.

Boston lawyer Brady Coyne is less than thrilled when he suddenly is summoned to Cape Cod by his client Jeff Newton, a former big game hunter forced into retirement after a close encounter with a wounded leopard. Now bitter and disabled, Jeff spends his days holed up in his well-guarded compound, tended by Lily, his maid and one-time lover, and waiting to die.

Shortly after Brady's arrival, he almost gets his wish. That night a pair of intruders break in and steal Jeff's valuable golden jaguars. Before leaving, the men bind, gag and threaten Brady and severely injure Jeff. The police officer on the case immediately suspects Lily is involved; Brady doesn't believe that the devoted housekeeper would have anything to do with harming Jeff, but he can't completely convince himself that she's innocent, either.

Brady, who would rather be fishing than practicing law (or solving crimes, for that matter), narrates this well-plotted tale in a nicely sardonic, self-deprecating style. William Tapply's 10th Coyne novel is sure to be a hit with fans of the hard-boiled mystery.

SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE

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