REMAINS.Patricia D. Cornwell.Scribners.373 pages...

ALL THAT

August 23, 1992|By SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE @ GRAND INQUESTS: THE HISTORIC IMPEACHMENTS OF JUSTICE SAMUEL CHASE AND PRESIDENT ANDREW JOHNSON. William H. Rehnquist. Morrow. 303 pages. $23. | SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE @ GRAND INQUESTS: THE HISTORIC IMPEACHMENTS OF JUSTICE SAMUEL CHASE AND PRESIDENT ANDREW JOHNSON. William H. Rehnquist. Morrow. 303 pages. $23.,LOS ANGELES TIMES TIGHT LINES. William G. Tapply. Delacorte. 277 pages. $18.

ALL THAT REMAINS.

Patricia D. Cornwell.

Scribners.

373 pages. $20.

Someone is stalking teen-age couples, killing them, and dumping their bodies deep in the woods of Virginia. By the time the remains are found, it's too late for Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta to determine the cause of death. "All that remains is his bones," she explains to the distraught father of one of the victims. "When soft tissue is gone, gone with it is any possible injury."

When the Jeep of 19-year-old Deborah Harvey is discovered, abandoned at a highway rest stop outside Richmond, Kay fears that the Couple Killer has struck again. Deborah and her boyfriend, Fred Cheney, had been on their way to the Harvey family's beach house; when they failed to arrive, the police were called. To complicate matters, Deborah is the daughter of one of the most powerful women in America, Pat Harvey, the national drug policy director. Was the young couple's disappearance the latest in the string of killings, or could it be related to Pat Harvey's role as drug czar?

Serial-killer dramas have proliferated lately, but "All That Remains" is refreshingly different -- no "inside the mind of a murderer" business -- just a good, solid detective story. As usual, Ms. Cornwell manages to perplex her readers until the very last pages; the book is full of red herrings, loose ends, wrong turns and misinterpreted clues. There's no point in trying to figure it all out, so just sit back and enjoy the ride. The title of this book by the chief justice of the United States isn't strictly accurate, for only about half of "Grand Inquests" concerns the ultimately unsuccessful impeachments of Samuel Chase (in 1804) and Andrew Johnson (in 1868). The remainder is background, the relevance of which is at times obscure.

Mr. Rehnquist obviously wants to put these events in historical context, but the result is a volume that often seems like a drawn-out civics textbook. When he gets to the heart of these matters, however, "Grand Inquests" is effective, for his factual descriptions are generally fair-minded and clear. Mr. Rehnquist's overarching point is conventional: that the failure of these two impeachments, brought largely for political ends, "surely contributed as much to the maintenance of our tripartite federal system of government as any case decided by any court." Susan Adams knows she is dying, so the well-to-do Boston woman summons her friend and lawyer Brady Coyne to assist her in setting matters straight before her death. Her only heir is her estranged 30-year-old daughter, Mary Ellen, who ran off with her professor. Considering Susan's condition and the large amount of money at stake, Brady knows he must find Mary Ellen quickly. Tracking her to an expensive apartment, he learns Mary has not been in for several weeks. Soon, her drowned body is found.

Brady suspects murder. The probe finds no lack of suspects -- the coke-dealer professor, a psychiatrist who had an affair with Mary, a Boston policeman who wanted to marry her, a companion of Susan's who may lose an inheritance if Mary turns up, etc.

William G. Tapply's "Tight Lines" is the 11th Brady Coyne mystery. It is quite traditional: There is the body and there are a number of suspects, and an outsider sifts through evidence to reach a conclusion. Mr. Tapply plays fair and works within the standard mystery conventions, but the result is a singularly flat novel cluttered with uninteresting characters. By the denouement, the reaction is more of a shrug than surprise.

BOB BAYLUS

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