September 01, 1991|By STEVE PROCTOR A SCANDAL IN BELGRAVIA. Robert Barnard. Scribner's. 245 pages. $17.95.



Jane Schwartz.


272 pages. $18. She was every horseman's dream come to life: a coal-black filly who could race a hole in the wind. Author Walter Farley once said she was the closest thing he'd ever seen to his mythical black stallion.

But that isn't why people remember Ruffian. Her name will always be synonymous with tragedy, for that moment when millions watched on television as her leg snapped in a match race with Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure.

The anniversary of that horrifying afternoon of July 6, 1975, no doubt is the reason for publication of "Ruffian: Burning From the Start," the story of the filly owned by Stuart and Barbara Janney of Baltimore County's Locust Hill Farm.

Author Jane Schwartz missed the anniversary, but that's about all she's done wrong. Her painstakingly researched account takes readers from the moment of Ruffian's birth, to the first workout that revealed her greatness, to the grim moment when Mr. Janney decided to end her suffering.

Maryland race fans will recognize some of the characters in her life, especially former jockey Vince Bracciale, who rode the filly occasionally, and trainer Barclay Tagg, who began his career under the man who trained Ruffian. The scandal the title refers to is the murder of a young aristocrat, Timothy Wycliffe, presumably by his homosexual lover. While writing his memoirs, more than 30 years after the incident, Peter Propper, a former British cabinet minister, can't stop thinking about the friend he lost so long ago. "Quite against my will Timothy is taking me over. . . . I know that the words will not come because my mind is taken over by that elegant, teasing, casually outrageous figure."

Peter begins questioning Timothy's friends and relatives, and gradually he begins to doubt the conventional wisdom about his friend's murder. When Peter finally meets the man who supposedly killed Timothy -- and incriminated himself by fleeing the country soon afterward -- he becomes convinced of his innocence. By this time, his memoirs have been pushed aside; Peter's new project will be a book revealing the real murderer. But first he needs to find out just who that is.

"A Scandal in Belgravia" shows Robert Barnard in fine form, full of witty jabs about the state of modern politics (everyone who meets Peter seems to have only the vaguest sense of what offices he held, but they all recognize him from TV). Gracefully written and intriguingly structured, this book is a delight right down to the startling twist in the very last sentence.



Luanne Rice.


307 pages. $19.95.

Lydie McBride, a photographer, has come to Paris with her husband, Michael, in order to distance herself from her father's unexplainable suicide. In Paris, Lydie befriends Patrice, another American. Soon she and Patrice plan to bring Kelly, Patrice's Filipino maid, to the United States. But although "Secrets of Paris," the fourth novel by Luanne Rice, is supposed to be a story about the good things that happen when females bond, it isn't.

Neither is it about the bad things that happen when a 40-year-old husband sees an attractive younger woman. Husband Michael has been commissioned to design an information center at the Louvre. He becomes obsessed with Anne Duman, who herself is obsessed with a 17th century writer. The somewhat overextended plot focuses on the intensity of Michael's relationship to Anne, and Lydie's reaction.

Lydie is haunted by her past and doesn't come to grips with her present. The result is a thin story in which several things happen -- but nothing adds up.


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