FALSE PROPHET.Faye Kellerman.Morrow.367 pages. $20.The...

BOOK BRIEFS

August 09, 1992|By GERRI KOBREN SOUTHERN GHOST. Carolyn G. Hart. Bantam. 322 pages. $19.

FALSE PROPHET.

Faye Kellerman.

Morrow.

367 pages. $20.

The honeymoon is over, Peter Decker is thinking. His wife, Rina, is pregnant and tired. His stepsons are standoffish, his daughter uncommunicative.

But for the LAPD detective, there's always something else to worry about, and right now it's a vicious attack on the glamorous, predatory owner of a health spa.

In this fifth entry in Faye Kellerman's Peter/Rina series, Rina has a decidedly minor role; this case is so complicated that there's no room for much beyond police procedural. Faced with a situation in which things are often not what they seem, Peter and his partner, Marge, are also dealing with jewel theft, missing memoirs, three doctor brothers, two bloody murders and one drug-crazed horse.

There's not much reward for pushing through all this. At the end, Peter and Marge figure out what must have happened, but they don't bring it to closure.

Truth is, you can't win them all, and in a series that has had both highs and lows, "False Prophet" is somewhere near the middle. Faye Kellerman's fans will just have to hope for something better in Book 6. After all, there'll be a new baby in that one. Courtney Kimball didn't know that she had been adopted as an infant -- much less that her natural father was Ross Tarrant, a member of one of South Carolina's most venerable families. But after the deaths of her adoptive parents, 21-year-old Courtney learns the truth while going through her mother's papers. Immediately, she wants to know more about the Tarrants, specifically their family tragedy; on May 9, 1970, Ross and his father, Judge Augustus Tarrant, died.

Courtney hires investigator Max Darling to determine exactly what happened on May 9. The official version states that the judge died of a heart attack after learning of his beloved son's suicide. In reality, the Tarrants went to great lengths to cover up the truth -- Augustus was murdered. When Courtney disappears, Max and his wife, Annie, suspect that she might have unearthed some information about those long-ago deaths.

"Southern Ghost," Carolyn G. Hart's eighth Annie and Max mystery, is a true modern-day Gothic, with its troubled family, gloomy mansion, thwarted romances and, yes, even a ghost. Non-devotees of the genre might find it all a little too melodramatic, particularly coming from a writer known for her light touch. Still, the Darling duo is as winning as ever, and the book contains a marvelous bonus -- the stories of several "real" South Carolina ghosts, which nicely complement Ms. Hart's

spooky tale.

SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE

SANTA FE RULES.

Stuart Woods.

Simon & Schuster.

302 pages. $20.

Hollywood producer Wolf Willet has it made -- a Bel-Air house, assorted cars, an airplane, a second home in Santa Fe, N.M., and a series of successful movies. But his world is ruined when he reads in the newspaper that he, his wife and business partner were brutally murdered in Santa Fe. After Wolf contacts the police, he becomes a suspect when he cannot account for his time during the triple murder; then it turns out that his wife has transferred money to her account. Desperate, he contacts Ed Eagle, a 6-foot-7 Indian lawyer and local legend.

With eight previously published novels, Stuart Woods has gained a reputation for sophisticated thrillers. "Santa Fe Rules" is so slick that you could skate on it: It's perfectly paced, there are some nice twists to keep the reader off-balance, and the characters are uniformly colorful. And the Santa Fe area is nicely detailed.

BOB BAYLUS

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