Picks and Pans Review: Time Bomb

updated 10/08/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/08/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Jonathan Kellerman

Kellerman must have flicked on his TV back in 1988 and seen the horror at a Winnetka, Ill., grammar school, where a disturbed woman, a local baby-sitter, opened fire, wounding four children and killing one. Time Bomb begins with a comparable scenario—only this time, two warring politicians arc present when the incident occurs.

The issue is busing. .For the inner-city children at L.A.'s Nathan Hale Elementary School, the shooting seems but the latest assault in a siege of racial violence. Surveying the emotional damage. Detective Milo Sturgis summons his friend, psychologist and amateur sleuth Alex Delaware: "If anything's got your name on it, this one does."

In more ways than one. From a relatively simple case—the sniper, Holly Burden, is killed on the spot by city councilman Gordon Latch's bodyguard—the mystery ducks and weaves and builds to become Kellerman's best since his first Delaware outing, When the Bough Breaks, in 1985.

Of course, the plot is farfetched—Kellerman always walks a thin line between the plausible and the absurd—but this unfolding conspiracy has a solid social base, and the characters are engrossing.

There's state assemblyman Samuel Massengil, a right-wing bully who becomes oddly docile in the company of his resident shrink and "management consultant," Lance Dobbs; smarmy liberal Latch and his sulking moneybags wife; Holly Burden's father, Mahlon, a pasty-faced technocreep whose ego blocks any true emotion: the dead black delivery boy. Ike Novato, who was a student of the Holocaust and a friend of Holly's. Only one player—Nathan Hale's pretty blond principal, Linda Overstreet—fails to convince, seemingly tossed in to provide Delaware with an unnecessary love interest.

Overstreet's dubious history, though, is only a small snag. This is an otherwise seamless tale that is virtually impossible to put aside until the final horrifying showdown. (Bantam. $19.95)

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