- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

Sheriff Milt Kovak speaks with a voice so clear that it sounds in a reader's head which makes Susan Rogers Cooper's Lying Wonders (Thomas Dunne Books, $22.95, 209 pages) a pleasure from start to finish.
Content is less sweet, however, as it explores the disappearance of two young people who were spending the weekend at Seven Trumpets, a religious retreat or a box of worms depending on your outlook.
The good sheriff has enough to worry about as the 60-year-old father of a 2-year-old. Starting a new family is hard enough without the previous wife butting in. But the teen, product of her second marriage, is missing on Sheriff Kovak's turf.
This one mixes the sweetness of finding family with the bitterness of deceit and betrayal. The sheriff, frequently puzzled by personal relationships but very sound on crime-solving, is a truly enjoyable character in both roles. Let's hope he visits soon again.

Susan Conant is one of those writers who doesn't need reviewers. Just her name on a book is enough to ensure readability. But The Dogfather (Berkley Prime Crime, $19.95, 259 pages) is such a romp that it warrants comment. Holly Winter, human pack leader of malemutes Rowdy and Kimi, has much less trouble with problem dogs than she has with humans, expecially when the human is Enzio Guarini. Reputedly even Enzio has lost track of the number of people he has iced in a long career as a Mob capo.
Fortunately, Enzio likes Holly though being liked by a Mob capo has its unpleasant moments. Such as finding a dead body during a lesson with Enzio's young, frisky Norweigan elkhound. The elkhound's manners are coming along just fine, but those humans are not to be trusted.
When Enzio's new girlfriend shows up with an untrained floor mop of a dog, Holly finds herself becoming dog trainer to the Mob and in trouble with everyone from the FBI down.
Mrs. Conant's descriptions of her characters are delightful, but her comments about dogs, especially her uninhibited malemutes, are apt to be a threat to the rib cage. All that laughing, you see. There is one vingette where a Yorkshire terrier off-leash attempts "suicide by malemute" that had this reviewer rolling on the floor. Perhaps you have to own a yorkie and know a malemute to appreciate it. Been there, done that. Still laughing.
Incidentally, Mrs. Conant's earlier "The Wicket Flea" is out in paperback now. It's almost as good as "Dogfather."

Speaking of animals, Donna Andrews is out with Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon (Thomas Dunne Books, $23.95, 297 pages), a book that defies description.
Yes, there is a buzzard, George, mascot of the Mutant Wizard computer game firm; and perhaps leaping loon describes Ron Langslow, brother of iron artisan and martial artist Meg Langslow, who has taught him the crouching buzzard kata never before described by any kung fu expert.
Ron, described as not thinking outside the box so much as unaware that there is a box, assembled a group of computer gurus to create and market a very successful computer role-playing game, "Lawyers from Hell." As rabid fans attempt to infiltrate the office for a preview look, the gang works on "Lawyers from Hell II," an activity not boosted forward when Meg finds the office practical joker dead on the automated mail cart.
Is it any wonder Meg is finding it difficult to recruit a temp to take over the duties on Wizard's old-fashioned telephone switchboard?
Then there are the therapists who refused to vacate the building when Mutant Wizard moved in. …
Think the Marx Brothers meet "Brave New World" and you might be getting close.

Ann Benson moves across time in Thief Of Souls (Delacourt Press, $23.95, 482 pages), a tale that shows twisted human behavior is nothing new.
Actually the book is two tales: that of noted nobleman and medieval killer of children Giles de Rais, and a man of secrecy and power in today's Los Angeles.
Both tales are a look deep inside a twisted mind that defies all restraint. The tale of Giles de Rais is known to anyone with a cursory knowledge of the history of the 1400s; the Los Angeles chapters could have come out of today's newspaper.
The book could be viewed as evidence that depravity resists eradication or it could be a tribute to those men and women who spend their lives exposing it. Mrs. Benson, who tells a tight, well written tale, seems to come down for the latter.

Judith Kreiner is an editor at The Washington Times.

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