by Robert Crais

Hotshot private eye Elvis Cole is looking after the 10-year-old son of his girlfriend when the boy disappears. A kidnapper calls demanding not money but revenge for the bloody Vietnam War firefight that left Cole with a chestful of medals and all of his Ranger buddies dead. The squeaky-clean war hero immediately suspects a ruse, but the cops aren't so sure and burn up valuable time trying to connect him to the kidnappers. So it's up to Cole to figure out what the kidnappers really want and find the kid before it's too late.

In his latest thriller, the ninth with witty Elvis Cole on the case, Crais keeps the adrenaline pumping. The bad guys, soldiers of fortune with special-ops expertise, are pleasingly menacing and coolly efficient: They like what they do. While Crais's last bestseller, Hostage, delivered great action but was thin on character, The Last Detective provides a complex look into Cole's past that is both interesting and helps drive the military-themed plot. Too bad his riveting sidekick Joe Pike, a brooding tough guy who makes a dramatic entrance during a Jack London-style Alaskan bear hunt, doesn't get more ink. Maybe next time. (Doubleday, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Elvis is king

by Joyce Maynard

Thirteen-year-old Wendy, who lives with her stepfather and half brother in Brooklyn, has just lost her mother in the attacks of Sept. 11 when her estranged biological dad shows up. He wants to bring Wendy to Sacramento to live with him, but the last thing she needs is to be wrenched from familiar surroundings by this Peter Pan-like figure.

One of the many Important Points Maynard emphasizes and reemphasizes in this novel is that there are all kinds of families, and as long as you're loved, it doesn't matter if yours consists of the assorted needy types (a lonely bookstore owner, a homeless skateboarding teen) Wendy encounters in California. Subtlety is not Maynard's strength: At best she spells things out, at worst she's manipulative. But if her use of the terrorist attacks seems exploitative, she seems to deeply understand a teenager's grief. Readers who can tolerate an intrusive author will find it impossible not to root for Wendy as she figures out how to get on with her life. (St. Martin's, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Heavy-handed but bighearted

by Nuala O'Faolain

This Irish journalist has produced a pair of surprise bestsellers: a blunt and moving memoir, Are You Somebody ?, about her childhood with an alcoholic mother and remote father, and a historical novel, My Dream of You. Now, reflecting on her sudden success at age 56 in this follow-up memoir, she dwells on her recent years in New York City, her breakup with a female lover, a trip to Italy with her family and the astounding reception of her books in the U.S.

Unfortunately, where the first book was poignant, this one is shallow. It lacks perspective, and the author often seems selfish and jealous, as though she were begging readers to hate her as much as they did the mother in Are You Somebody? Some will call it honest, but in the end she's just humorless. (Riverhead, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Dreary diary

by John Lescroart

Abe Glitzky, a homicide detective who is black and Jewish, has been reassigned to payroll after a long recuperation from a gunshot wound. So when a pawnbroker friend of Abe's father is murdered and Dad nudges Abe to keep tabs on the investigation, Abe has to tread carefully with his new boss. Meanwhile bar owner John Holiday, sought for the pawnbroker's murder and three others, tries to prove he's been framed.

A complicated plot and too many characters make heavy demands on the reader, and Lescroart adds to the mess with flash-forwards that muddle the continuity. You may file them for later retrieval and not recall them once you've got the main story under control. Eventually the strands come together, though the final reckoning borrows from L.A. Confidential. (Dutton, $25.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Clear case of confusion

by Tony Parsons

Someone once said that love is the quest, marriage the conquest and divorce the inquest. London TV producer Harry Silver is obsessed with all three as he begins his second marriage, to a gorgeous caterer named Cyd. Harry would be a happy bloke were it not for his quarrels with his ex-wife Gina, who moves to America with their 7-year-old son, and his infatuation with the shy Japanese photographer who moves into Gina's house. Cyd has an admirer too, an exec who, Harry notes, wants to "get his hands on your canap├ęs."

Parsons is a charmer with a gift for rueful humor; on visits, Harry's son is "handed over like a Cold War hostage at Checkpoint Charlie." If you have a cry button, prepare to have it pushed by the sweet sentiments that put this sequel to 2001's Man and Boy atop U.K. bestseller lists. Tenderness, though, can turn to mush. A wedding ring is a "band of burnished gold that somehow contained the entire universe"; a baby is "the greatest miracle." No argument there, but no originality either. (Atria, $23)

BOTTOM LINE: May raise blood sugar to dangerous levels

Page-turner of the week

by Matthew B.J. Delaney


In 1943 Pvt. Eric Davis and his platoon land on the Pacific island of Bougainville and find that both American and Japanese soldiers have been brutally slaughtered in a manner horrific even by wartime standards. Wounded, Davis is rescued by the Merchant Marine ship Galla, but perishes when the ship is sunk. Cut to 2007, when an undersea documentary crew salvages Galla and brings it to a naval museum in Boston. Soon the city faces a series of gruesome killings similar to those Private Davis encountered 64 years earlier, and cops find themselves pursuing an ancient, seemingly unstoppable adversary.

Like Dean Koontz, Delaney convincingly places demons and all things evil in familiar surroundings, but in addition to crafting a terrific suspense yarn, he has created a morality play in which human corruption plays an important role. Although Delaney can be heavy on plot and light on character, Jinn deftly intermingles three genres: crime, horror and sci-fi. (St. Martin's, 24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Knock back this Jinn

  • Contributors:
  • Sean Gannon,
  • Debby Waldman,
  • Edward Nawotka,
  • Edward Karam,
  • Kyle Smith,
  • Rob Taub.