Title: "The Curse of the Cockers"Author: Gerald...

BOOK BRIEFS

March 27, 1994|By J. WYNN ROUSUCK Title: "Kingfishers Catch Fire" Author: Rumer Godden Publisher: Milkweed Length, price: 282 pages, $12.95 (paperback) | J. WYNN ROUSUCK Title: "Kingfishers Catch Fire" Author: Rumer Godden Publisher: Milkweed Length, price: 282 pages, $12.95 (paperback),LOS ANGELES TIMES Title: "Precipice" Author: Tom Savage Publisher: Little, Brown Length, price: 290 pages, $19.95 (paperback)

Title: "The Curse of the Cockers"

Author: Gerald Hammond

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Length, price: 144 pages, $18.95 Scottish Capt. John Cunningham -- a dog trainer and veteran of the war over the Falklands Islands -- is a springer spaniel specialist, but when a cocker spaniel puppy turns up at the scene of a fatal hit-and-run accident, he agrees to board the pup.

After a second cocker pup is found dead at the site of another questionable fatality, Cunningham follows the trail of the dogs in hopes of uncovering the murderer and clearing the name of his friend, Angus Todd, the chief suspect.

"The Curse of the Cockers" is the latest in a litter of Cunningham mysteries by Scotsman Gerald Hammond. Thanks to the detailed information about dog breeding and field trials, it's apt to appeal to dog fanciers as much as mystery buffs.

There's plenty of authentic Scottish flavor, beginning with Hogmanay, the Scottish celebration of New Year's Eve, at the start of the book, and continuing with the dialect. The latter can get a bit thick. "That's cowped somebody's hurly. If I was you, I'd caa canny," a tractor man tells Cunningham after the captain nearly loses his life in a car whose engine has been tampered with.

But even if the language is occasionally more mysterious -- and the dog lore more interesting -- than the actual mystery, it's an enjoyably diverting trip to the Scottish Highlands.

@ "Why is it that everything I do, but everything, becomes startling?" asks Sophie Barrington, the vague and headstrong protagonist of Rumer Godden's novel of postwar colonial India. After her marriage dissolves, her husband dies and Sophie herself almost dies in a mission hospital, she gets it into her head to move to a remote village in Kashmir, to "live like the peasants."

Her baby, Moo, and her 8-year-old daughter, Teresa, are dragged along. She rents a house, and insinuates herself into the intricate equation of village life, with its feuds and shifting alliances.

Born in 1907 in England, Rumer Godden was whisked away to India when she was 6 months old. She was shipped back to England for her schooling at age 12, but returned to India when she was 20. She married and had two children, and after her

husband died, like Sophie, moved to a remote village in Kashmir, where she wrote and ran an herb farm.

Ms. Godden has written more than 60 books for adults and children in her lifetime, many of them fueled, as this one is, by her deep love for India. After the tragic loss of her husband, rich widow Kay Prescott marries Adam, a --ing yachtsman. With Lisa, her daughter, Kay and Adam live an almost fantasy life in exotic St. Thomas. Lisa's nanny disappears, but Kay is glad to meet the beautiful artist Diana Meissen: Diana is recovering from a soured love affair and is looking for a place to mend. It isn't until Diana has moved in that Kay and Adam discover a suitcase filled with faded newspaper clippings of lurid murders and a knife. Soon, everything Kay cherishes is jeopardized.

In "Precipice," his first novel, Tom Savage has managed to put an original spin on the overused premise of the evil nanny. All the usual ingredients are in this novel that are in such books as "The Nanny" or such movies as "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle": The seemingly perfect family takes in the ideal care giver only to find out that it has made a terrible mistake. Mr. Savage has added convincing characters, unexpected violence and an interesting locale. Giving away any more plot twists would not be fair to the reader, but "Precipice" is an auspicious beginning for this novelist.

BOB BAYLUS

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