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BLOODY SUNDAY

Mayhem Afloat Peppered With Old Salts

June 12, 1988|CHARLES CHAMPLIN

DEAD RUN by Tony Gibbs (Random House: $16.95; 288 pp.) WISHFUL THINKING by Frank Wyka (Carroll & Graf: $15.95; 223 pp.) BEN FRANKLIN TAKES THE CASE by Robert Lee Hall (St. Martin's Press: $16.95; 256 pp.) SCORPIUS by John Gardner (G.P. Putnam's Sons: $12.95; 319 pp.) THE ANGEL OF TORREMOLINOS by David Serafin (St. Martin's Press: $13.95; 192 pp.) SATURDAY NIGHT DEAD by Richard Rosen (Penguin: $16.95; 277 pp.) THE BOTTOM LINE IS MURDER by Robert Eversz (Viking: $16.95; 249 pp.) COLLECTED STORIES by Ruth Rendell (Pantheon: $19.95 ; 536 pp.) THE MYSTERY LOVER'S BOOK OF QUOTATIONS compiled by Jane E. Horning (Mysterious Press: $16.95 ; 256 pp.)

Tony Gibbs is a former executive editor and yachting correspondent of the New Yorker and the son of one of the magazine's founding stylists, its longtime drama critic, Wolcott Gibbs. Earlier books by Gibbs, who now lives in Santa Barbara, include "Practical Sailing," "Navigation" and "Cruising in a Nutshell." Dead Run, his debut as a thriller writer, is one of the best of the year, a characterful, active and salt-sprayed tale enriched by as much boat lore as Erskine Childers' classic "Riddle of the Sands" from early in the century.

A resourceful young woman named Gillian Verdean inherits a beloved but worse-for-the-wear 65-foot ketch from an uncle who in his prime years had used Glory for a bit of arms-running. Now he has been murdered in his bunk, and two equally sinister villains are scheming to get at Glory and find the hidden treasure (whatever it is) that Uncle Dennis said would settle his debts and make Gillian rich.

Gibbs has invented a wonderful cast: the heroine herself, a drunken but loyal first mate, an infiltrating spy, a senator's oversexed daughter, a porn actress who wants to open a brothel and settle down, and the villains and their henchpersons. No one we meet is quite above reproach, although Gibbs's handling is discretion itself.

Gillian is in the honored tradition of spirited and independent women and half a century ago, she would have been played by Jean Arthur.

But the special excitement of the book is Gibbs' sure-footed way around the deck, building to a deadly sea chase by night through an even deadlier gale off Long Island. It is a superior piece of sustained narrative writing, and "Dead Run" is altogether a rouser.

Frank Wyka's Wishful Thinking is a clever and continuously surprising psychological thriller set in the beach cities of Southern California. In its pleasantly unpretentious way, the book has much to say about the muddled values in a society where the haves are notoriously insecure and the have-nots expect to make it big (not necessarily legally) any minute.

A man whose wife is a pill addict arranges a faked kidnaping of their 4-year-old daughter in the hope that it will scare the wife out of her habit. He also hopes to get a piece of the ransom money from his rich father-in-law. Everything goes wrong. The husband is murdered, the kidnaper proves to be a concealed psychopath with his own plans for the ransom money. His girlfriend, who went along only because it presumably was not a real kidnaping, now finds herself trying to protect the child from the kidnaper.

Wyka creates terrific suspense (you have the feeling Hitchcock would have been interested), leading to an offshore confrontation between a helicopter and a yacht. The relation between the child and her guardian is very affecting, and the resolution is unorthodox but entirely satisfying.

Robert Lee Hall's previous mystery, "Murder at San Simeon," with William Randolph Hearst and other real-life figures mingling with creatures of fiction, seemed to hint at the exhaustion of the celebrity genre. Yet his new one, Ben Franklin Takes the Case, is a fine and atmospheric visit to 18th-Century London in the years before the Revolution, and with an undeniable celebrity at its center.

Ben, in London to represent the colony of Pennsylvania in a quarrel with His Majesty's government, finds an old printer friend murdered, a nice young boy living in virtual slavery and everybody lying about everything. Franklin gets to the heart of it and appears to have anticipated the stun gun to get himself out of a deadly mess at the finale.

James Bond lives on, in the de-colorized imitations by John Gardner (an Englishman, no kin to the late American novelist of the same name). Scorpius is the seventh of the post-Ian Fleming Bonds. The supervillain of the title has invented a culture called The Meek Ones, populated mostly by young people he has reclaimed from drugs only to brainwash into willingly suicidal living bombs who are wiping out British politicians at a ghastly rate.

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