DEATH.Deborah Crombie.Scribner's.243 pages...

A SHARE IN

March 14, 1993|By SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE MAYFIELD CROSSING. VAUNDA MICHEAUX NELSON. Putnam. ` 88 pages. $14.95.

A SHARE IN DEATH.

Deborah Crombie.

Scribner's.

243 pages. $20. Two American authors, Martha Grimes and Elizabeth George, have enjoyed great success with their novels about detectives at England's Scotland Yard. Fans of their work are likely to relish "A Share in Death," the exciting debut of Texas writer Deborah Crombie, which introduces the detecting team of Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, an amiable Scot, and his partner Gemma James, a single mom.

After cracking a gruesome serial murder case, Kincaid heads to the bucolic moors of Yorkshire for a well-deserved vacation. Unfortunately, rest and relaxation aren't in the cards: Shortly after his arrival, the hotel's assistant manager, Sebastian Wade, is murdered. The superintendent debates whether to get involved -- after all, the snide and pompous local officer in charge certainly doesn't want Scotland Yard interfering. But when a second corpse is found on the premises, and another hotel guest has a close call, Kincaid realizes he must solve the crimes before the killer strikes again.

This accomplished mystery has plenty of intriguing suspects -- all with deep, dark secrets, of course -- and a clever climax. It will be interesting to see what Ms. Crombie has in store for her characters; while Gemma James plays a fairly minor role here, the divorced Kincaid enjoys mild flirtations with virtually every other female in the book. Some sexual tension between the

partners seems likely in the next installment. This is a coming-of-age story with a twist. The narrator, Meg, her brother, Billie, and neighborhood friends -- all black -- face probably the biggest crises of their young lives: Their school has been closed, and come fall they have to go to the all-white one on the other side of the railroad tracks. In the years following federally mandated school desegregation in the mid-1950s, it was a common experience for black youngsters across the country -- but not one usually depicted in a novel.

Author Vaunda Nelson has the right touch in this young-adult novel, showing -- without being preachy -- how nonsensical racial and economic discrimination are. She even throws in a homeless man to show discrimination of another sort. The book has the feel of an old-fashioned novel. Parents looking for a way to introduce their kids to a softened version of their own experiences may want to pick this up.

MARILYN MCCRAVEN

@ARTHUR C. CLARKE: THE

AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY.

Neil McAleer.

Contemporary Books.

430 pages. $25.

This authorized biography of Arthur C. Clarke is reverentially and exhaustively complete. But despite obvious effort and devotion to his subject, biographer Neil McAleer has supplied too many facts and not enough context.

A scientist as well as a writer, Mr. Clarke has led a fascinating life in the "real" world and in the worlds of his own mind ("2001," "Imperial Earth," etc.) Acknowledged as the originator of the communications satellite (an idea he made public domain for $40), he also participated in the early development of radar, promoted rocket research after the war, was a pioneer in the use of scuba gear for oceanographic research and photography and was instrumental in the formation of his adopted nation of Sri Lanka. He continues to advise the powerful in science, international diplomacy and the media.

While these accomplishments are painstakingly detailed, the book provides little sense of the correlation between the events of Mr. Clarke's life and the contents of his writing. Rather than include even brief synopses of his stories, or analysis, Mr. McAleer, a Baltimore science fiction writer, enumerates all the facts and quotes acquired in his research, however marginal or redundant. This is a valuable tool for the serious student of science fiction but it is not, from this fan's view, fun reading.

JAMES COX

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