MISSING SUSAN.Sharyn McCrumb.Ballantine.295 pages. $17...

BOOK BRIEFS

November 03, 1991|By SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE DANGEROUS SPACES. Margaret Mahy. Viking. 154 pages. $12.95. Ages 10-14.

MISSING SUSAN.

Sharyn McCrumb.

Ballantine.

295 pages. $17. Although he earns a living by showing tour groups the sites of England's most sensational murders, Rowan Rover doesn't have any firsthand knowledge in his field of expertise. But when an American businessman asks Rowan to do away with his niece, offering him $50,000 for his trouble, the debt-ridden guide reluctantly says yes.

The woman in question, Susan Cohen, a passenger on Rowan's September mystery tour, turns out to be thoroughly obnoxious, a blabbermouth and a boor. In fact, the other members of the group soon begin to long for her demise. Rowan, however, just can't seem to kill her; somehow, his staged accidents always backfire. Besides, how can he possibly make Susan's death look unintentional in front of a bunch of crime buffs, including the ever-perceptive Elizabeth MacPherson?

"Missing Susan" takes a fairly predictable turn at the end, but the latest entry in Ms. McCrumb's MacPherson series still is a great deal of fun, particularly the would-be assassin's hapless efforts. In addition there's an abundance of fascinating information about famous English crimes, from the slaying of King William Rufus in 1100 to Jack the Ripper's grisly deeds.

In this imaginative book for dreamers -- young and old -- Flora, speaking for all adolescents, says "Sometimes I think we're stuck in time, everything on the way but never getting here." She and her cousin, Anthea, who has just moved in with the family (like a "given-away pup"), are stuck in a situation that is difficult for both of them. Flora's parents are following their dream, living in a half-finished, out-of-the-way house, trying to escape the rat race, and the girls must cope -- or not. When in a dangerous space, children turn to their dreams to work out fears and wishes.

The realm of dreams is the favorite setting for talented New Zealander Margaret Mahy, winner of two Carnegie Medals (the British empire's equivalent to the Newbery medal). Through the use of an old stereoscope, Flora and Anthea are transported to the secret land of Viridian, where they meet images of their grandfather and uncle.

There are warm but complex scenes of family life, in which people of different ages and temperaments love each other but have divergent ways to be happy. Young readers will understand and enjoy how these girls feel -- their helplessness, their desires, their worries -- as they dream and imagine solutions.

JUDITH B. ROSENFELD

HIGHGATE RISE.

Anne Perry.

Fawcett.

330 pages. $18.

Victorian London seems rather accustomed to crime. But when a devastating arson fire in the fashionable suburb of Highgate Rise costs the life of the socially prominent Clemency Shaw, notice is taken. Clemency was the daughter of a prominent London family and the wife of a noted doctor. The investigation is turned over to Police Inspector Thomas Pitt. Whenever Pitt is involved, his main source of information about life with the upper crust is his wife, Charlotte.

Their investigation is hampered by a glaring lack of clues but a multitude of contradictions. Was Clemency the target or her husband? Was the murder inspired by Clemency's work in trying to rid London of its scandalous slums, or was her husband having an affair and wanted an end to their marriage?

Anne Perry's "Highgate Rise" is another splendid Victorian mystery in an already glorious series. Ms. Perry captures the atmosphere and mores of the late 19th century, and the way she consistently wraps her observations in fine mysteries makes her accomplishments all the more noteworthy.

EILEEN POWER

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