ATONEMENT.Faye Kellerman.Morrow.360 pages. $20. In...

DAY OF

July 07, 1991|By GERRI KOBREN DATE WITH A DEAD DOCTOR. Toni Brill. St. Martin's. ! 264 pages.$17.95.

DAY OF ATONEMENT.

Faye Kellerman.

Morrow.

360 pages. $20. In this fourth entry in her series featuring L.A. cop Pete Decker and orthodox Jewish widow Rina Lazarus, Faye Kellerman has moved her characters into an uneasy honeymoon. After his conversion to Judaism and their marriage, Rina has hauled Peter off to Brooklyn to spend the High Holidays with her first husband's parents.

Physically uncomfortable in their cramped little house, socially and emotionally uncomfortable in their tight little world, Peter is stunned when he realizes an older family friend is the mother who gave him up for adoption 41 years before. Reeling from the implications, he is catapulted back into his role as a detective when the woman's teen-age grandson disappears on Rosh Hashanah afternoon. Looking for the boy in New York and then Los Angeles, Peter learns the youngster is traveling with a

knife-wielding psychopath who likes to kill fish.

Marred somewhat by typos and other oddities that better editing could have eliminated, "Day of Atonement" nevertheless is a smooth blend of wildly disparate elements: a search for a crazy killer, a look at life inside an insular religious community and, as always, an examination of the relationship between Rina and Peter, who are wildly disparate elements themselves. There are meddling mothers, and then there is Pearl Cohenwho is in a class by herself. Pearl's main goal in life is to fix up her daughter, Midge, recently divorced after a disappointingly grandchildless union, and her job as a dental hygienist gives her lots of opportunities to meet eligible bachelors.

Pearl's latest find is a urologist named Leon Skripnik, who showed not a whit of interest in meeting Midge until Pearl happened to mention that her daughter is fluent in Russian. Then Leon rushes over to Midge's apartment with a long letter that he desperately needs translated. The contents reveal that cousin Shmuel Skripnik from Israel will be arriving in America within days, but Leon won't be meeting him at the airport -- he's been murdered.

With the thoroughly unlikable Leon out of the way, the book turns into a giddy farce, as Midge desperately tries to find somebody to pick up Cousin Shmuel so she can "get on with my Skripnik-free future." Naturally, she winds up sinking deeper and deeper into the case. Some of the running gags in "Date with a Dead Doctor" grow tiresome, but there are enough laughs along the way to make this light mystery a pleasurable diversion.

SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE

ANTONIONI.

Sam Rohdie.

BFI Publishing.

.` 213 pages. $18.95 (paperback).

Sam Rohdie is among those who greatly appreciateMichelangelo Antonioni's creativity, and this well-written book shows it. Several major underlying messages come through. Chief among them is that Mr. Antonioni ("Blow-Up", "L'Avventura") has always been an experimental and contemporary filmmaker, and the productivity of his efforts resides in the stories and images generated within the films themselves.

Mr. Antonioni is widely known for presenting his film subjects as ambiguous and tenuous. In "Il deserto rosso," for example, when Valerio asks ". . . how much one plus one make . . . [he answers] 'one' [and places one drop of liquid over another] and the two merge into a single blot . . ."

His four-hour documentary on China, "Chung Kuo Cina" (1972), was condemned during the Cultural Revolution because it became "a film about a China seen but not known, observed, but not explained . . . [and not dealing with] . . . the achievements of the new China."

This book avoids biographical aspects of Mr. Antonioni, but addresses his cinema techniques and artistic skills throughout

his career in a thorough, easy-to-read manner.

ANGELO C. GILLI SR.

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