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Bloody Sunday

January 01, 1989|CHARLES CHAMPLIN

Thomas H. Cook's "Sacrificial Ground" was one of the best mysteries of 1988. It featured Frank Clemons, a battered Atlanta cop who drank, fought and remembered too much. He solved the nasty murder of a young woman and fell in love with her beautiful sister, an artist.

Now, in "Flesh and Blood," Clemons has quit the force and come to New York with his love. He has set up as a private eye with a grimy basement office. He is still a night-roaming drinker, and the relationship is collapsing because at heart their life styles are a chasm apart.

The case he gets is a search for any survivor of an elderly garment executive who has been savagely murdered. The trail--beautifully and movingly detailed by Cook--leads back to the ghetto sweatshops and the struggles to organize the garment industry.

The death of Clemons' romance, mutually, wistfully regretted, is a side theme, sketched with poetic economy. The denouement is ripe with florid twists, but getting there--walking into a dark past--is an exceptional trip.

Cook is an important talent, not simply a plotter but a prose stylist with a sensitivity to character and relationships that suggests Ross Macdonald.

Not many mysteries evoke comparisons with Georges Simenon's Maigret, but Magdalen Nabb's "The Marshal and the Madwoman" does. The setting is Florence in a stifling August when the deserted city lies inert and gasping in the heat.

Marshall Guarnaccia, here making his sixth appearance, is not a towering figure like Maigret but is overweight and a bit bullied by his superiors. But, like Maigret, he has a patiently supportive wife and he understands that crime is character and the past frequently the key to present misdeeds.

A madwoman, living in one of the city's tiny squares, has been killed for no evident reason. The deciphering, ever more poignant, leads back to events during the city's disastrous flood. Nabb, an Englishwoman, has lived in Florence since 1975 and her writing is a love poem to it. One of her quoted admirers is, quite logically, Simenon himself. She is very good.

Loup Durand is said to be a longtime pseudonymous best-seller in France, now writing under his own name. His ineptly-titled "Daddy," translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn, is an intricately cross-grained thriller about a very smart 11-year-old boy with a phenomenal memory. He is being chased around World War II Europe by the Nazis because he has been entrusted with a list of Swiss bank-account numbers. The accounts hold $350 million the lad's banker grandfather smuggled out of Germany in the early '30s on behalf of Jews and other Nazi victims.

The boy's father and chief ally is a Rockefeller-rich American who hadn't previously known the boy existed. The boy has other allies in some Spanish bodyguards loyal to the memory of his mother. The Nazis have all the resources of the Third Reich. The boy is one of the most likable inventions in some time. The pace is breathtaking, and guess who wins.

James Patterson, chairman of the J. Walter Thompson advertising behemoth, writes a mystery every dozen years or so. "The Midnight Club" is, as might be anticipated, sleek, fast, skillful and larger than life.

The protagonist is a cop in a wheelchair, in dogged pursuit of the villain who put him there--a psychopathic killer who doubles as a respected international financier. The club, with police involvement, seems to be killing off bad guys, but only to create the ultimate crime monopoly. The heart of the matters is pure pulp, but the surfaces were never so glossy.

Peter Lovesey, the English writer best known for his Victorian era criminalities (the Sergeant Cribb series on PBS) turns out, in "Butchers and Other Stories of Crime," to have a gift for the contemporary short story. He works in a sardonic tradition probably closest to Ruth Rendell and Patricia Highsmith, in that the crimes will not always make the police blotter.

The question of who offed the butcher shop boss by locking him in cold storage over the weekend will certainly come to police notice. But the 4-year-old who discovers his mother's ribbon-tied love letters and decides to play postman, delivering them all over the neighborhood (a delicious plot-ploy if there ever was one), well, he's something else.

The country village murder cases as Christie and Allingham used to write them, complete with manor house, eccentric vicar and a map for a frontispiece, are an endangered species. But Dorothy Simpson writes them fondly and well and "Suspicious Death," with sturdy Inspector Luke Thanet as her sleuth, is quietly competent and tranquilly satisfying. Who pushed the self-made and hugely disliked lady of the manor off the bridge and into the river? I think we can leave it to Luke to find out.

FLESH AND BLOOD

by Thomas H. Cook (G.P. Putnam's Sons: $17.95 ; 302 pp.) THE MARSHALL AND THE MADWOMAN

(Scribner's: $15.95 ; 223 pp.) DADDY

by Loup Durand; translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn (Villard: $18.95 ; 374 pp.) THE MIDNIGHT CLUB by James Patterson (Little, Brown: $xx.xx; 280 pp.) BUTCHERS AND OTHER STORIES OF CRIME

by Peter Lovesey (Mysterious Press: $9.95, paper; 207 pp.) SUSPICIOUS DEATH

by Dorothy Simpson (Scribner's: $16.95; 248 pp.)

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