- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2001

Rhoda Swift was just a rookie when she walked in on the kind of scene that gives lasting nightmares to even experienced officers. Two families had been massacred in a remote canyon cabin. One child died in Rhoda's arms. And so veteran author Marcia Muller introduces us to her newest character in Point Deception (Mysterious Press, $23.95, 305 pages). Years have passed and Rhoda is a sheriff's deputy, still haunted by the events of Cascada Canyon, as is the small town of Signal Port.
Reporter Guy Newberry is haunted, too, by the death of the woman who was both partner and wife, killed in action as they covered another of the world's perpetually boiling trouble spots. He is in Signal Port perhaps in search of a story. Not the murder of the two families but rather what it did to the town and its people. Except they are so closed to outsiders that no one will talk to him. In fact, he has trouble finding a place to stay in a town where every hotel has a vacancy sign out front.
The Cascada Canyon killings, always somewhere in the background, gain new attention when an attractive young woman stranded by car trouble is found murdered on the anniversary of the massacre.
Though they are separated by time, these murders have grown from a common root. It takes the efforts of both Guy and Rhoda to find the link — and perhaps put their troubled pasts to rest.
Mrs. Muller never disappoints. This is the dark, sharp, insightful work of a consummate pro and a rich, fulfilling introduction to another powerful character — or two.

Well, well, well. Just when it seemed the mystery genre had developed the most subgenres possible, along comes Chloe Green with Designed to Die (Kensington, $22, 252 pages) and fashion stylist Dallas O'Connor. For those unfamiliar with the term, a fashion stylist is the person who takes the with-it dress or the hip suit and places it in a setting that conveys not only its look but the look, that subliminal subcontext that tells what the fashion is all about. Think about those rugged men with interesting occupations standing on mountaintops or the bottom of the ocean wearing Rolex watches.
Dallas is in demand because she is very, very good at subcontext. This is a trait that comes in handy when people start dying on a fashion shoot in and around Seattle.
Never mind a synopsis of the plot; it's one of those where you just hang on tight around the corners. The important factor is the characters, which are very well developed for what is only a second book. (I really do have to lay my hands on "Going Out in Style," her first, which somehow got past me.) Dallas is a delight but Miss Green's craftsmanship extends to the rest of the cast as well. They are robust and convincing. And you just have to read the part where the women use "a full Brazilian" to wring information from a reluctant source.

No one in her right mind would set Chief of Police (and force of one) Arly Hanks to chaperone a bunch of teenagers with the usual raging hormones and natural talent for stealth — but then Edna Buchanon Buchanon is not wrapped all that tight on her best day. Yes, it's time for a visit to Maggody, Ark., a very small town with an extraordinary crime rate in the latest Joan Hess offering, Maggody and the Moonbeams (Simon & Schuster, $23, 254 pages).
Arly gets pressed in to help when an epidemic of mishaps just happens to incapacitate anyone else who might be eligible to serve (in Maggody that means conscious, relatively sober with an IQ over 80 and eliminates a goodly proportion of the inhabitants). Yes, these books are so politically incorrect that it's impossible not to love them as they poke fun at every Appalachian stereotype.
The teens are going to rehabilitate a summer camp for dying children, provided the adults keep a close eye on them. Edna, as wife of Mayor Jim Bob Buchanon and an upstanding member of the Voice of the Almighty Lord Assembly Hall, of course sees herself as foreman and commander-in-chief.
And everything is fine for a couple of hours until Brother Verber, the spiritual leader of the aforesaid Voice of the Almighty Lord Assembly Hall, sees a ghost and one of the girls trips over a dead body.
Then it's the usual Maggody mayhem. If you are a frequent visitor to Maggody, you need no more enticement. If you are a newcomer, be apprised the natives are friendly, if a bit strange — OK, a lot strange — and the biscuits at Ruby Bee's diner are always fresh and flaky. So come on in and enjoy the fun.

A dying child is the trigger point for yet another blighted life in Robert Crais' HOSTAGE (Doubleday, $24.95, 373 pages). Jeff Talley is a former Los Angeles SWAT member and hostage negotiator until he gets some bad information and loses control of the situation on a crime scene. A boy dies and Talley can only watch.
In the depths of grief, he quits the LA force, leaves his family and closes himself off from everyone and everything. Taking refuge as the chief of police in a small California bedroom town.
Life has a way of searching you out, however. Three punks on a joyride kill the owner of a convenience store, flee, get stopped by a car mishap and take refuge in the luxurious home of an accountant.
Unexpectedly, Talley finds himself coordinating another hostage situation, but without the large, highly trained, specially equipped team that usually backs him up.
A further complication is that this accountant has financed his posh lifestyle by laundering money for the mob. The computer in his home contains enough evidence to put players on both coasts in the house of many doors for many years. Everyone has an interest in resolving this hostage situation — but everyone has a different definition of resolving.
Mr. Crais started out as a good author and has grown into an excellent author. This latest offering is one you want to save for your day off because you are not going to want to put it down.

Judith Kreiner is an editor at The Washington Times.


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