Picks and Pans Review: North of Montana

updated 09/12/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/12/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by April Smith

Plucky Ana Grey, the narrator of Smith's first novel, is an FBI agent with a chip on her shoulder. Who can blame her? She's 32, single and female—three strikes against her in the mostly male Los Angeles field office. From the opening pages of North of Montana, when Ana collars a bank robber, she must struggle with her training-school edict: "Keep a clear head...and go by the rules."

Easier said than done. Ana has learned most of what she knows about following rules—and breaking them—from her grandfather Poppy, a retired cop who raised her. Only the recalcitrant Poppy can resolve the central mystery of Ana's life: Who was her father and how did he die?

When Ana is given a high-profile case involving a Hollywood actress who claims that her doctor has hooked her on illegal drugs, Ana's own puzzling history collides with her investigation and she must face an uncomfortable truth about her family and herself. By neatly dovetailing two powerful stories, Smith has created a page-turner of substance. (Knopf, $23)

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