by D. Keith Mario

This sprightly thriller, Mano's seventh novel, begins in Nebraska, from which young Mike Wilson is summoned to Queens, New York, by his brother Tony's wife.

Tony has vanished, and Ethel has four kids to raise—will Mike please run the Smoking Car, Tony's restaurant, till things straighten out? What gives this situation real zip is that Mike is an Episcopal priest and what Ethel calls a restaurant is a topless bar.

Topless is Mike's diary account of managing the Smoking Car, his clerical identity concealed from patrons and dancers, his employment kept from his Episcopal superiors.

The handsome priest is kept hopping. Lecherous dancers make passes; he becomes chief suspect in a series of grisly murders; his fiancée, a prim librarian, arrives from Nebraska.

For Playboy, where he was a contributing editor (he has also contributed to PEOPLE), Mano researched the world of topless dance. The contemplated articles weren't written, he says in a note, but he taped about 200 interviews in 25 or so bars: "The fictional plot line for Topless surfaced through that ocean of authentic detail."

We learn, for instance, that managers should pay attention to a dancer's weight—sudden loss is a tip-off to drug use; that dancers are often students working their way through college; that an average-looking young woman working five nights may take home a tax-free $1,500 per week.

Topless has its faults. The contraction, in dialogue, of infinitive forms—"t'be," "t'go," "t'come"—is irksome, and the plotting is no great shakes; indeed the climax, resolving the linked mysteries of brother Tony's disappearance and the dancer killings, is as preposterous as it is startling. But Father Mike has charm, wit and a good ear for raunchy jokes; his diary is a treat. (Random House, $18)

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Jeff Brown,
  • Lorenzo Carcaterra.