GRIEVOUS SINFaye KellermanMorrow368 pages. $20 In the...

BOOK BRIEFS

August 29, 1993|By GERRI KOBREN SUMMER OF FEAR T. Jefferson Parker St. Martin's 359 pages. $19.95 | GERRI KOBREN SUMMER OF FEAR T. Jefferson Parker St. Martin's 359 pages. $19.95,LOS ANGELES TIMES THE CONSERVATOR'S SONG William C. Bowie University of Arkansas Press 71 pages. $17.50; $9.95 paperback

GRIEVOUS SIN

Faye Kellerman

Morrow

368 pages. $20 In the hospital where Rina Lazarus Decker has just given birth, a baby disappears, along with one of the nurses. Detective Sgt. Peter Decker, grateful for the safety of his own newborn daughter, jumps into the search for the kidnapped infant.

It sounds like a perfect setup for a heart-stopping procedural, but this latest entry in the Decker/Lazarus mystery series diddles around for 90 pages before getting to it, with puzzling and pointless little vignettes along the way.

Although no one working the crime genre is better than Faye Kellerman at breaking the static mold of detective heroes, Peter's got almost too much on his personal plate this time -- a new baby, a weeping wife with a complicated recuperation and an older daughter determined to play detective's helper.

The investigation is brisk enough, especially after the nurse's car is found, wrecked and burning, with human remains inside. But there's no real suspense. Peter may just be too tired to arouse interest, and there are too many questions raised and then left unanswered.

When Russ Monroe sees a dead woman driving a Chrysler up Laguna Canyon, he senses that something is seriously wrong. He himself had discovered the battered body of Amber Mae Wilson, his former lover, in her $3 million house. A surpassingly vicious killer is at large in this mystery novel, butchering minority families, giving his beloved Orange County a "racial facial." Of all his putative victims, Amber alone does not fit the pattern. Monroe -- ex-policeman, journalist, author -- has been chosen by the murderer as his conduit to the public.

Hideous though they are, the massacres are not Monroe's primary concern. His wife is. Isabella has brain cancer. Chemotherapy has robbed her of her lustrous hair. Steroids have bloated her body to 200 pounds. The tumor has affected her speech, rendered her legs too weak to walk. While immersed in (( the atrocities, even as a suspect, Monroe's real battle is with himself, and with God. The love he holds for Isabella is tested daily. His flesh conspires against him. He is consumed by rage, despair, hope, then rage again. He demands of God, "Treat her with respect."

Although there is a link between parallel stories -- "Cancer is a serial killer; a serial killer is a cancer" -- the romance prevails. "Summer of Fear," in the end, is not a mystery containing a love story, nor is it a love story surrounded by a mystery. It's a very good mystery, and an even better love story. Several poems in "The Conservator's Song," winner of the 1992 Arkansas Poetry Award, work with traditional poetic forms. William Bowie, a Baltimore poet, writes a madrigal, a ballad, a terza rima, a villanelle and variations of these. Sometimes the iambic pentameter and rhyme seem forced. Usually they flow smoothly.

The free verse seems to be the most successful. In "The Shore," Mr. Bowie describes the shoreline by listing what lives on it and beside it. He lets images accumulate in haiku-like stanzas, reminiscent of William Carlos Williams and of Miroslav Holub, a Czech poet. The concluding stanza -- "the sound of water washing and washing itself . . . washes ashore" -- paints a surrealistic picture while showing the power of understatement.

The title poem, comparing the poet to one who restores old photographs, also gains its power from understatement. The poem, Mr. Bowie suggests, brings "what's hidden . . . darkly back to light." Saying this, he makes an apt comment on his own style.

DIANE SCHARPER

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