by Mary Higgins Clark

Clark's crime-rattled characters have fought off pedophiles (Where Are the Children?), political assassins (Stillwatch), even desperate dress designers (While My Pretty One Sleeps). What could be more ominous?

Try being single in Manhattan.

Darcy Scott, child of one of the screen's most publicly celebrated, privately self-absorbed couples, is searching for the killer of her best friend. Worse: Darcy, who talked pal Erin into joining her as a romantic guinea pig in a TV probe of personal ads, feels responsible for the death.

The prospects for Darcy—who has foolishly offered herself up as a bait by tracing Erin's ad-answering path—grow increasingly grim when it becomes clear that there is a serial killer involved, one whose crimes go back more than a decade and whose creepy signature is putting a dancing slipper on his victim's right foot.

FBI investigator Vince D'Ambrosio watches carefully as Darcy steps out with an unsettling, pathetic lineup of lonely hearts, and author Clark offers a well-informed tour of New York City's singles haunts. The throat-clutching denouement is pure Clark—inevitable, horrible and, ultimately, irresistible. (Simon and Schuster, $21.95)

by Linda Sunshine

I'm never going to write my autobiography, and it's all my mother's fault," playwright-humorist Jean Kerr once noted. "I didn't hate her, so I have practically no material." If only we could have counted on the same silence from Sunshine, author of Women Who Date Too Much and Plain Jane Works Out.

How Not to Turn into Your Mother is full of charts, lists, quizzes, cautionary tales, tedious case histories and pallid whimsy. The humor—using the term loosely—often has a desperate metallic edge. Take "The Thirty Stages of Turning into Your Mom": "During first sleep-over demand that all your friends pick up after themselves...Listen to your best friend (or sibling) explain the facts of life and get a headache...Go on your first date, and when he doesn't call back, decide to sue for half of his estate."

The women in the burlesquing case histories are given names like Laurie Lestoil; the experts who offer commentary on mother-daughter contretemps are given names like Carlos Jungas, Janis Panis, Cecilia Yesandno. Ba dum.

In the most dexterous hands, 142 pages of this sort of thing would be a stretch. In this instance, a pamphlet would have been pushing it. (Dell, paper. $6.99)

by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Like most of Singer's work (at 86, he has written more than 40 books), this novel is about the yearnings and confusions of tum-of-the-century Eastern European Jews. Full of colorful language and Yiddish aphorisms—"A person is his own worst enemy...Ten enemies can't do what a person does to himself"—it is also about the sexual and social mores of that time. While this title refers to the squalor that Singer's protagonist encounters on his return to his homeland, it is also an apt description of the protagonist's character.

Distraught over the recent death of his teenage son, Polish-born businessman Max Barabander abandons his wife in Buenos Aires and travels back to Warsaw. Within days, he takes up with a gang leader's mistress who yearns to be a madam, seduces a pious rabbi's daughter by claiming to be a widower who will marry her, convinces a young servant girl to become a prostitute, takes up with a medium (and another woman), and soon finds himself in serious trouble with the law.

At first, these strange behaviors seem to stem from a grieving father's pain; slowly, however, Max emerges as a shadowy, sleazy character whose fate was sealed long before his son died. A Jew among Gentiles in Argentina, Max tosses Spanish words into Yiddish sentences, does not keep kosher, and has no respect for the Talmud. He has lost his ethnic identity—"moved away from Jewishness." That is the crime for which he is being punished.

Were it not for Singer's gift for storytelling and eye for detail—you can almost hear and smell Krochmalna Street in Warsaw, for instance—a reader might lose interest in this moralistic, chauvinistic tale long before Max encounters retribution. As it is, even Singer admirers won't be sorry that Barabander's moral journey—and this book—last only 195 pages. (Farrar Straus Giroux, $19.95)

by Alexander Jablokov

In this imaginative sci-fi novel, the 24th century is an odd mixture of futuristic and medieval touches, a world of computers and short swords, of space satellites and wild boar hunts.

The earth, the moon, Mars and the asteroid belt that stretches between Mars and Jupiter each supports its own distinctive culture. They all get caught up in intrigue involving a dead artist and a large cache of a rare, incredibly precious gem called ngomite.

Jablokov is a much-praised short story author writing his first novel. The additional length acts on him like a marathon-length race might affect a sprinter. He sets up a heady premise that weaves together art, history, religion and politics. The plot, however, isn't as successful as the texture, and the story grows increasingly dulled as it trudges home. (Morrow, $21.95)

>IF GOD WANTED US TO TRAVEL Correction. If He wanted us to laugh, then maybe we wouldn't have stumbled upon this uninspired collection of anecdotal traveling gags by comedian David Brenner. (Pocket)

HOMEBOY Set in San Francisco's Tenderloin, a land of junkies, hookers and pimps, the late Seth Morgan's first novel evokes such writers as William Burroughs and Henry Miller even as it makes myth from a tale of gritty street life. (Vintage)

THE BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA From screenwriter Hanif (My Beautiful Launderette) Kureishi, this wickedly engaging first novel about an Indian man, his somewhat horny teenage son, mysticism and life in the suburbs of London resonates with humor and insight. (Penguin)

  • Contributors:
  • Susan Toepfer,
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • Sara Nelson,
  • David Hiltbrand.