BEAST.Peter Benchley.Random House.350 pages. $21. Timing...


July 28, 1991|By RANDI HENDERSON A SUITABLE VENGEANCE. Elizabeth George. Bantam. 371 pages. $19.


Peter Benchley.

Random House.

350 pages. $21. Timing? Peter Benchley's got it. The guy who brought you "Jaws" knows that right now -- midsummer -- is just the time to bring out another novel about the terrors that abound in the deep blue sea.

What we have here is your quintessential beach reading: absorbing without being demanding, threatening enough to inspire a thrill of terror as you glance up from your blanket on the sand and gaze out into the fathomless ocean.

Yet it's remote enough so that it's no problem to swallow your fears and keep on turning the pages.

The scene is Bermuda. The villain is a giant, squidlike monster that attacks boats and eats people. The hero is a down-on-his-luck fisherman with the unlikely name of Whip Darling.

Stir in some hapless victims -- one of the things that Mr. Benchley does best is sympathetically paint these doomed characters with a few deft strokes -- an obsessed scientist, a millionaire whose children ended up as dinner for the monster.

Result: a totally predictable but nonetheless entertaining novel that is sure to be showing up on beach blankets this summer from Maine to Florida. Elizabeth George's fourth mystery actually is a "prequel," giving us a glimpse into the earlier life of her series' hero, Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley.

With his fiancee, Deborah Cotter, and a couple of their friends, Thomas has returned to his family home in Cornwall to celebrate his engagement. He didn't count on his drug-addled younger brother, Peter, showing up -- or on the grisly murder of a local journalist.

As if that weren't enough to spoil the party, Thomas finally is forced to confront his estranged mother, whom he hasn't forgiven for having an affair while her husband lay on his deathbed. Their mutual concern for Peter finally coaxes them into an uneasy truce.

The murder mystery in "A Suitable Vengeance" is insidiously intricate, but the family saga is what really makes this book such a satisfying page-turner.

Troubled families have been a staple of Ms. George's fine series of psychological mysteries, but by showing us the bitterness and tension beneath the surface of Thomas Lynley's own very proper, aristocratic family, the author sheds new light on the forces that shaped the moody detective.




Photography by Lynn Hyman

Butler, text by John B. Manbeck.

Beautiful America.

108 pages. $29.95;

$19.95 softcover.

The title "Coney Island Kaleidoscope" is accurate. The photographs in this book are as far removed from reality as a kaleidoscope's images.

Coney Island is exuberant, tacky, emphatic, crass and, these days, shabby. Its beauty is brassy, its charm is common.

These characteristics have been amply photographed, but while Lynn Hyman Butler's efforts to do something different are understandable, they can't be called successful.

Ms. Butler's approach is to deny Coney's down-to-earth flavor. Using photographic techniques that produce blurred images and fanciful hues, she drenches her Coney Island scenes in a dreamy, impressionistic atmosphere that says nothing truthful or insightful about the place.

The text does better. John B. Manbeck's attempts at poetic prose really don't fly, and he is often vague about what time period he is referring to -- but he knows his Coney Island, all right, and describes it with affection and enthusiasm.


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