BLINDSIGHT.Robin Cook.Putnam.429 pages. $21.95.With a...

BOOK BRIEFS

January 05, 1992|By RANDI HENDERSON WOMEN ON TOP: HOW REAL LIFE HAS CHANGED WOMEN'S SEXUAL FANTASIES. Nancy Friday. Simon & Schuster. 460 pages. $22. | RANDI HENDERSON WOMEN ON TOP: HOW REAL LIFE HAS CHANGED WOMEN'S SEXUAL FANTASIES. Nancy Friday. Simon & Schuster. 460 pages. $22.,LOS ANGELES TIMES CONDITION BLACK. Gerald Seymour. Morrow. 336 pages. $20.

BLINDSIGHT.

Robin Cook.

Putnam.

429 pages. $21.95.

With a dozen successful novels behind him, Robin Cook would be a fool to give up the formula that has stood him in such good stead. Take a beautiful doctor, plop her into a treacherous situation, stir in a generous helping of medicalese for authenticity, and season with a light romance.

All the ingredients are in "Blindsight," the doctor-turned-novelist's latest effort. Laurie Montgomery is a New York City forensic pathologist who suspects something fishy when a succession of prosperous yuppie types ends up on slabs in the medical examiner's office after cocaine overdoses. But why are her bosses squelching her investigation? Is there any connection to the suave ophthalmologist her parents want her to date, a man forever on the hunt for a cornea source? Could Laurie find true love with the Colombo-like cop who shares her suspicions? And what does the Mafia have to do with all this?

Really, Dr. Cook -- the Mafia? Why mess with your formula? If all that senseless killing weren't enough to anesthetize readers, the clunky dialogue between the two hit men would leave anyone cold. Don't let your mastery of technical jargon make you think you can do street talk, either. Stick with the operating room, the emergency room and the pathologist's lab, and leave the Mafia to Mario Puzo.

@ It must be fun to be Nancy Friday's postal worker, delivering missives from all over the country about that most private of private acts, the sexual fantasy. This is a companion volume, of sorts, to her 1973 "My Secret Garden," but the news, as the title suggests, is that women's fantasies have become more aggressive.

In case you need to be convinced (or titillated), she offers evidence, chapter upon chapter of graphic evidence, fantasy upon fantasy, until each sentence begins to seem like soft-core Novocain.

What emerges, sadly, is a sense not so much of strength but of despair: So many of these women are not victors, but merely victims with overhauled imaginations. They fantasize, often about the unattainable object of their desire, to escape a miserable marriage, a dormant relationship, an abusing husband a drug-hazed life -- to propel themselves out of the real world, where they still feel trapped. Ms. Friday can put as brave a face on it as she wants to, but her book inadvertently highlights the stranglehold this society retains on most women. Daydreams are nice; the awakening, for too many of her subjects, is very rude. Like few other writers in the espionage genre, Gerald Seymour's novels have an authenticity that puts him in the ranks of John le Carre or Eric Ambler. In "Condition Black," he has a particularly chilling theme: Saddam Hussein's attempts at acquiring a nuclear arsenal. As usual, Mr. Seymour tells the story using several plots that converge at the end.

British-born Colin Oliver Louis Tuck -- known as "Colt" -- is Hussein's chief assassin. When he dispatches an Iraqi dissident in Greece, he inadvertently kills a CIA agent. The agent was a lifelong friend of FBI investigator Bill Erlich, who swears revenge and begins to stalk the killer. Colt's next assignment is to get Frederick Bissett, a bitter British nuclear scientist, to defect to Iraq.

Unlike so many thrillers on the market today, "Condition Black" is a complex book in which human beings take center stage instead of technology. It's a believable, compelling and sinister novel.

BOB BAYLUS

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