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Crescent Blues Book ViewsBantam Dell (Hardcover), ISBN 0-553-80098-1.

Sara Labriola is, in a rather small way, married to the Mob. Her husband Tony runs a legitimate enough business, but her father-in-law, Leo, is a vicious, lower-echelon mobster. Although Tony escaped his dad's vileness, he does accept some of Leo's rather more reprehensible attitudes concerning the roles of husbands and wives.

Book: thomas h cook, peril
Constrained from pursuing any activity that might interest her and condemned to spend her time picking up dirty underwear after Tony, Sara arrives at middle age and realizes her future will consist of nothing except more of the same. She even yearns for the somewhat grim days before she met Tony, when she earned her living as a torch singer of occasionally purchasable morals. At least she didn't feel stifled.

Since she remains (shamefully!) childless, Sara feels no compunction about fleeing her comfortable Long Island home for the anonymity of New York. She takes neither car nor credit cards, believing that will make her untraceable. Or is she?

Tony, slowly realizing the error of his ways, wants to find her -- not necessarily to bring her back but at least to talk to her. He seeks some sense of closure. Leo wants to track her, too, ostensibly to bring back his son's wife. In fact, he wants to destroy her.

Leo pressures a small-time, semi-crook called Mortimer to bring in the notorious finder of lost persons known as Stark. Since Mortimer just learned he has only three months to live, he feels immune to Leo's threats. But when he understands these threats would extend to his widow, Mortimer complies with Leo's wishes.

Other involved characters include the barman Abe (the sole person whom Mortimer entrusts with the secret of his impending demise and also -- by very stretched coincidence -- the guy whom Sara approaches in Manhattan seeking a job as a singer) and Caruso, a hood forever seeking to turn hitman. Caruso displays a fanatical loyalty to Leo, believing he owes Leo everything.

The interlocking tales of these various people make up the novel. The construction reminds this reader somewhat of a typical Ed McBain 87th Precinct novel, although there the resemblance ends. (The style recalls more closely Donald Westlake in his "Richard Stark" mode.) As Cook gives us the pieces of the plot to jigsaw together, a sort of inexorable momentum builds up. The tension becomes very real. Everyone wants to locate Sara except Sara herself, who wants to lose Sara and rediscover the woman she once was. Who will find her first? Her life depends on it.

Cook depicts a couple of his main characters quite brilliantly. In particular, he masterfully handles Mortimer and Tony's gradual, attitudinal sea-change. But Leo's vileness seems sketched rather than painted in, and Sara's vapidity, although wonderfully captured in a lovely, lovely piece of characterization, makes it hard to care as much about her fate as one should.

You'll certainly enjoy Peril, and almost certainly you'll become snared in the working out of its various converging strands. But even just a few days after you've finished it you may find you have difficulty remembering its resolution. Nevertheless, Peril qualifies as a top-quality piece of journeyman craftsmanship.

John Grant

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