Title: "Night Train to Memphis"Author: Elizabeth...



Title: "Night Train to Memphis"

Author: Elizabeth Peters

Publisher: Warner Books

Length, price: 353 pages, $21.95

There is a character in Elizabeth Peters' new Vicky Bliss book who maliciously tortures another character (offstage, of course). Ms. Peters treats Dr. Bliss in much the same sadistic way: The string of misfortunes heaped upon her blond head goes on and on.

The trade-off for the added adventure is less background color. Usually one learns something of the world of art as Dr. Bliss, a medievalist working for a Munich museum, struggles to survive her encounters with Ms. Peters' mischievous imagination. Not that there isn't background in this tale. But it is more backdrop, and it is borrowed from one of Ms. Peters' other series heroines, Amelia Peabody Emerson. The Memphis in the title is the Egyptian one, not the Tennessee one.

And just what is medievalist Bliss doing in nonmedieval Egypt, anyway? It seems that authorities have gotten wind of a planned robbery of a Cairo museum. One of the robbers will be on a luxurious Nile cruise ship and would be recognized by Vicky. Can she possibly help out?

Vicky thinks she knows which character out of her past this might be. But even she is surprised by whom she meets and what happens to her as she cruises down the Nile and then fights her way upstream. Title: "Swimmer In the Secret Sea"

Author: William Kotzwinkle

Publisher: Chronicle

Length, price: 91 pages, $10.95

"I built a house for us, with a room for him," writes William Kotzwinkle in the fictional voice of Laski, "and now I'm building his casket. There's no difference in the work. We simply must go along, eyes open, watching our work carefully, without any extra thoughts. Then we flow with the night."

This novella, first published in "Prize Stories 1975: The O. Henry Awards," has been out of print since 1981 and richly deserves its own covers. Mr. Kotzwinkle, who went on to write "The Fan Man," "Fata Morgana," the novelization of "E.T." and, most recently, "The Game of Thirty," like the father in "Swimmer," lives on an island in Maine. This account of the birth and loss of a child is so spare and direct and intimate that it's hard to believe this is not a personal history.

For 10 years, Laski and his wife try, against medical advice, to have a child. "Life enslaves us, makes us want children, gives us a thousand illusions about love, and all so that it can go forward." There is finally a pregnancy, and after a detailed, bone-crushing description of the labor and birth (the literary equivalent of the home video), the "swimmer in the secret sea" is born.

"And this, thought Laski, is why we labor, so that love might come into the world." The rest is almost unbearably sad. Title: "Storming Heaven"

Author: Dale Brown

Publisher: Putnam

Length, price: $22.95, 399 pages

Terrorism hits the shores of the United States in Dale Brown's newest high-tech thriller, "Storming Heaven."

Henri Cazaus, a well-known and feared terrorist, begins a program of revenge on the United States for something done to him by U.S. soldiers in World War II, when he was a young child in Europe. His vindictiveness has festered until now, when he unleashes his well-orchestrated campaign of bombing attacks on major airports.

The nation's response is led by Rear Adm. Ian Hardcastle, last seen in the Brown novel "Hammerheads." This time, the mission is to get Cazaus before he is able to carry out his final strike on the nation's capital.

"Storming Heaven" depicts the conflicts that arise when a country tries to stop a zealot like Cazaus. Mr. Brown shows this from the beginning of the novel, when the commandos are going to pick up Cazaus but are under a court order to that states they must bring him in alive. This is the same frustration police have in dealing with criminals every day.


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