Title: "Bad Love"Author: Jonathan KellermanPublisher...

BOOK BRIEFS

January 16, 1994|By GERRI KOBREN Title:"Write Me a Letter" Author:David M. Pierce Publisher:Mysterious Press Length, price: 259 pages, $18.95

Title: "Bad Love"

Author: Jonathan Kellerman

Publisher: Bantam

Length, price: 386 pages, $22.95

There are some things you take on faith. Like that Jonathan Kellerman, child psychologist turned mystery writer, knows what doing in a book about a serial killer who's been murdering psychotherapists.

So then you pretty well have to believe that the novelist's hero, child psychologist turned forensic consultant Dr. Alex Delaware, knows what he's doing when he builds a profile of the murderer, whose signature is "bad love" screamed or scrawled near some of the bodies.

In this latest entry in the Dr. Delaware series, Alex -- a gutsy intellectual with sex appeal who would play well on television -- moves through a plot that would play well, too. A tape with screams and a "bad love" recitation sends him chasing through the corridors of memory, his own and other people's, to the events surrounding a string of deaths that were not, in some cases, recognized as murders. It's a character study, with a fair share of carnage, and there's a big-bang kind of ending.

But while Alex and his cop buddy Milo delineate the why and how, there's nary a clue to the who, right up to the unmasking of the killer. It could be anyone, and, in fact, it's an altogether unsuspected someone whose life story, recited during a lull in the action, fits the profile the author has drawn. That might be psychologically (and cinematically) sound; literarily, it's a letdown. From the moment the beautiful Ruth came into his San Fernando Valley office, gumshoe V. I. (Vic) knew two things: Ruth was gorgeous and her story was baloney. All Vic had to do was pick up her "Uncle Theo," who is from Eastern Europe and speaks no English, at the airport and baby-sit him for a few days.

The yarn might have been full of holes but the money was good, and Vic is short of funds. He was certain that there would be complications to the assignment, but he didn't bargain on running into the Israeli Mossad or coming across deadly secrets from 50 years ago.

"Write Me a Letter" is David M. Pierce's fifth Vic Daniel mystery, and the Southern California private investigator and his unusual "associates" breathe life into an overdone genre. The package is wrapped up in a solid mystery with some unexpected turns and a few dollops of violence. This is a delightful addition to a wonderful series.

BOB BAYLUS

Title:"Butterfly Stories"

Author:William T. Vollmann

Publisher:Grove/Atlantic

Length, price:200 pages, $22

This novel is a little like going on one of those amusement park rides where you scream, clutch your loved one, and swear never to do it again, but then as soon as the ride is over you jump on line to buy another ticket.

The unnamed main character (called at various times, the butterfly boy, the journalist, the husband) travels with a friend, the photographer, to Thailand and Cambodia where, in an almost religious fervor, they have obsessive, unprotected sex with many, many prostitutes. The photographer seems purely decadent, but the journalist, who falls in love with Vanna, a Cambodian prostitute, is clearly looking for something. To say what that is -- love, consciousness, identity -- unfairly shrinks this sad and subtle novel. The journalist becomes a " . . . crazed and greedy butterfly . . . The girls give him colds, coughs, sore throats, weird new aches. . . . What he was doing was systematically dismantling his own reality, blurring faces and names. . . ."

William T. Vollmann's writing has its own bright, lethal rhythm like a cut that pulses blood with every heartbeat. The sex and violence are graphic but completely organic to the story, which turns liquid and contradicts itself on a moment's notice. Although it has great rewards, "Butterfly Stories" is a scary and difficult book.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

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