FLESH.Simon Brett.Scribner's.207...

MRS. PARGETER'S POUND OF

May 09, 1993|By SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE IN THE SPARROW HILLS. Emile Capouya. Algonquin Books. ` 245 pages. $19.95.

MRS. PARGETER'S POUND OF FLESH.

Simon Brett.

Scribner's.

207 pages. $20. Melita Pargeter is the very proper widow of a master criminal. He left her well provided for, and not just financially -- Mrs. Pargeter has a huge network of her late husband's "business associates" who are prepared to help her out of any sticky situation. Since she has a habit of getting mixed up in murders, those loyal colleagues often come in handy.

In her fourth adventure, Mrs. Pargeter visits a ritzy health spa with her friend Kim Thurrock. Not that the pleasantly plump Melita wants to shed any excess poundage, of course; she's there only to lend moral support to Kim, who wants to look her best when her husband returns home after seven years in prison. When Mrs. Pargeter spots the body of a young woman being wheeled away one night, she begins to suspect that something distinctly unhealthy is going on at the spa.

Britain's Simon Brett is one of the wittiest mystery authors

around; Mrs. Pargeter's absurd delicacy about her late husband's "profession" is a particularly good running gag (anyone who brings it up is subjected to a frosty stare). Mr. Pargeter's former associates are also amusing -- most are now trying to walk the straight and narrow, but how long can men with names like Stan the Stapler and "Ankle-Deep" Arkwright stay out of trouble? "Mrs. Pargeter's Pound of Flesh" is a jolly frolic, as light as a slice of fat-free angel food cake. Emile Capouya's first book, "In the Sparrow Hills," is a collection of five sometimes difficult but always entertaining stories. The hero/narrator is unreliable and wordy. His long, rambling stories abound with contradictions.

The title story, for instance, begins: "This is not a story. The

people I mention here for purposes of corroboration are men of flesh and blood." Later, the narrator informs us that we must live by trust. Still later, as he's explaining how a story should be told, he says, "If I were telling a story, I would not ruminate on things widely separated, and I would not be the subject of my own reflections."

In fact, though, he is telling this story and several more. He's also the subject of his own reflections about the illusory quality of life. Since the five stories are interlocking, there is an ultimate story and meaning holding the book together. The reader must put these stories and their contradictions together in order to make another story whose point is the meaning of everything that's happened.

DIANE SCHARPER

WINTER PREY.

John Sandford.

Putnam.

` 336 pages. $21.95.

After spending years tracking dangerous criminals and battling the stifling Minneapolis Police Department's bureaucracy, Lucas Davenport quits the force and moves to a small Wisconsin town to design computer games. But murder has a way of following Davenport. When a family is brutally slain during a snowstorm, the police chief asks for his assistance.

Despite his misgivings, Davenport feels the rush of excitement at being able to join "the hunt" again. The investigation leads to some of the darkest parts of the psyche.

When the prime suspect is murdered, Davenport's trail takes unexpected turns. Several more deaths follow, and Davenport learns that evil can be found in a small town as easily as a big city.

"Winter Prey" is the fifth Lucas Davenport thriller by John Sandford. The author is a master in genuinely terrifying situations, and his pacing is flawless. In "Winter Prey," the author has added another dimension to the tension, a ferocious snowstorm with minus 25 degree temperatures. "Winter Prey" is a fine addition to a winning series.

BOB BAYLUS

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