September 20, 1992|By MARILYN MCCRAVEN CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE. Edna Buchanan. Hyperion. 277 pages. $21.95. ZTC


Betty Leslie-Melville.


48 pages. $15.

Elephants constantly talk to each other, but the sound is too low for humans to hear. A mother elephant sprays an oily substance from her trunk onto her babies to prevent sunburn. These facts -- along with dozens of others about wild African animals -- will keep adults and children turning the pages of this work by Betty Leslie-Melville, the Baltimore native who has written 11 children's books.

Ms. Leslie-Melville, with her late husband, Jock, started the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife to save animals from poachers. From their experiences, she writes some entertaining stories. Probably more interesting than the stories though, are her insights into animal behavior. She destroys one myth about the alleged "king of the beasts." Lions make "terrible parents and are also lazy and dumb," she writes. The book's title is taken from road signs spotted throughout East Africa -- all traffic must stop, regardless of how long it takes, for even a single elephant to cross a road.

Ms. Leslie-Melville, a former preschool teacher here, moved with her husband and children to Kenya 30 years ago. There she became the first person to raise wild giraffes in captivity. Proceeds from the sales of the book are to help educate African schoolchildren. Truth may be stranger than fiction, but in the hands of Edna Buchanan, it makes for better reading as well.

The masterful police reporter for the Miami Herald, Ms. Buchanan in this book tries her hand at fiction. But barely: The heroine, like the author, is a Miami police reporter; the plot involves a Rodney King-like incident and subsequent riot.

The 15-inch crime story written under deadline for the next day's paper seems a better vehicle than the novel for this writer. The novel's setup takes nearly half of the book, even though it's pretty obvious where things are heading. The climax, in which the bad guy stalks the heroine against the backdrop of a city erupting in lawless chaos, is rushed through in the final pages of the book, as if deadline was approaching and Ms. Buchanan had to turn her story in rightthisminute. Too bad, because this is where the writing truly shines -- you can practically smell the acrid fumes of the city afire.

Also ringing true-to-life are Ms. Buchanan's detailing of both police and reporter cultures, which are remarkably similar in her telling, with the dedicated foot soldiers of each toiling gamely under higher-ups who are either as corrupt or incompetent as they are ambitious. How can you not love a writer who describes the ocean at night as "black as an editor's heart"?



Martha Grimes.


230 pages. $20.

Martha Grimes, the Maryland-born author and pre-eminent mystery writer, has built her reputation telling English mysteries. But her latest book, "The End of the Pier," is set in small-town America.

Much of the action occurs in the Rainbow Cafe. Sam DeGheyn -- the town sheriff, not a Scotland Yard superintendent -- is one of several main characters. The others are Maud Chadwick, who works at the Rainbow and who is avidly reading "The Idea of Order at Key West," a poem by Wallace Stevens; Maud's 20-year-old son, Chad, and a murderer whose identity is hinted at but unknown until the climax of the story -- where Stevens' poem plays a crucial role.

AAs the plot develops, readers learn that the point of this highly literate and entertaining story is not so much who murdered four young women; it's why.


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.