Picks and Pans Review: Hard Fall

updated 01/27/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/27/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Ridley Pearson

Cam Daggett is an FBI agent, an expert in the brand of criminal who finds moral justification for leaving explosive-laden suitcases in crowded lobbies, such as Anthony Kort, who acts in the name of a German terrorist group.

Kort and Daggett are the best of enemies. Daggett's determination to capture his prey grows out of a need to balance a personal wrong. When a terrorist bomb detonated aboard a British jetliner, 327 passengers perished, among them Daggett's parents. There were only four survivors, all children. One of them, paralyzed, was Daggett's son, Duncan.

Kort, on the other hand, is a middle-class German whose unretractable venom grew out of the deaths of his wife and child, attributed in his mind to the avarice of a chemical company that contaminated the community they lived in. Pollutants caused their baby to be born horribly deformed. Kort's distraught wife then took her own life after poisoning the baby.

As Hard Fall proceeds, the personal lives of the two adversaries cross, even to the point where Kort has an affair with Daggett's sometime girlfriend. Each man is playing a game that could end in the murder of the innocent and the not-so-innocent. It is a deadly contest, expertly played by both men.

Pearson (Undercurrents, Probable Cause) excels at writing novels that grip the imagination, and this his sixth book is his best by far. Daggett and Kort emerge not as the kind of cardboard figures easily found in any Jack Higgins novel, but as complex and tortured souls, each out to avenge the gravest injustices.

Daggett and Kort's tense dance is the best cat-and-mouse game in suspense fiction since Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal and William Diehl's 27. Hard Fall is an adventure with all engines churning. (Delacorte, $20)

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