Title: "The Crocodile Bird"Author: Ruth RendellPublisher...

BOOK BRIEFS

November 14, 1993|By SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE Title: "Demons" Author: Bill Pronzini Publisher: Delacorte Press Length, price: 230 pages, $19.95 | SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE Title: "Demons" Author: Bill Pronzini Publisher: Delacorte Press Length, price: 230 pages, $19.95,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

Title: "The Crocodile Bird"

Author: Ruth Rendell

Publisher: Crown

Length, price: 361 pages, $20 English suspense writer Ruth Rendell has created a memorably mysterious setting for her new novel. Shrove House, a remote stone mansion miles from any neighbors, is the only world 16-year-old Liza Beck has ever known. She and her mother, Eva, live in the gatekeeper's cottage, looking after the property, which stands empty most of the year.

In this isolated milieu, Eva has given her daughter a classical education -- Liza understands Latin and French, and has read the great works of Shakespeare and Dickens. But the girl's seclusion is complete; the world outside exists solely in books. Why, reasons Eva, should she subject her child to the rigors of modern society when they can live in the perfect environment, right on the grounds of Shrove House?

Ms. Rendell is the author of more than 40 books, and her experience shows: She unfolds the narrative so gradually and so gracefully that knowing too much of the plot in advance would spoil the reader's enjoyment. Her evocation of what life under such extraordinary circumstances is like for a young woman lies at the heart of this quietly chilling novel; it opens with Liza on the run from Shrove and her mother, but the full story of why she is making her escape is not revealed until the climax. "The Crocodile Bird" is a spellbinding work from a writer at the top of her form.

Bill Pronzini has managed to take what would appear to be a traditional private eye concept and stand it on its head. The California-based hero of this series (more than 20 so far) doesn't have a name. Many detectives go from case to case with little character development, but in the Nameless series the reader is privy to his inner thoughts, doubts, fears and triumphs. In several novels, the plot is almost secondary to his private life. The result is a wonderfully inventive series without a lot of violence.

In "Demons," Nameless is hired by Kay Runyon to investigate her husband, Victor. Nameless winds up trying to locate Nedra Merchant, a classic femme fatale with a string of broken men in her past -- one of them Victor. Nedra has vanished, though, and Nameless must solve her disappearance and find out what role Victor had in it.

On a personal note, Nameless' girlfriend, Kerry, suddenly stops seeing him, and after a recent breakup with his business partner he has more doubts about himself.

Although the series is constantly evolving, the books can stand alone. But reading one of Mr. Pronzini's works can be highly addictive.

BOB BAYLUS

Title: "The New Adventures of Mother Goose"

Author: Bruce Lansky

Publisher: Meadowbrook

Length, price: 48 pages, $15

Here is proof that we live in a nation settled by Puritans. "The New Adventures of Mother Goose" is now out for parents who find "Mother Goose" to be, in the "New" author's words, "scary, violent, intolerant and sexist."

Take, for instance, "Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater." In the version we all know, Peter imprisoned his errant wife "in a pumpkin shell." Bruce Lansky's new version replaces marital tensions with dental ones:

Peter, Peter, sugar eater,

always wanted food much sweeter.

Adding sugar was a blunder,

now he is a toothless wonder.

Other rhymes politically corrected in this book include "Rock-a-bye, Baby" (the bough no longer breaks) and the old woman who lived in a shoe (she no longer beats her children, or even has children -- maybe social services put them in foster care).

Parents who persist in believing the world to be a scary, violent and intolerant place, and who hope to teach their children this themselves, rather than waiting until they learn it from "Beavis and Butt-head," will be happy to know that many versions of the old "Goose" remain in bookstores everywhere.

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