Steve Lopez, Author . Harcourt $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-15-100284-9

A smalltown Jersey cop working in the shadow of Atlantic City sees the job of his dreams turn into a violent nightmare in Lopez's latest, a smart, funny character study disguised as a murder mystery. The story begins when 50ish sheriff Albert LaRosa gets an offer to become head of security for a new casino in his hometown of Harbor Lights. But LaRosa's bright future dims considerably when he learns that the slick, sleazy casino magnate, Oscar Price, has hired him to run interference for a series of land seizures from well-liked residents and the bulldozing of several houses, as well as the restaurant owned by LaRosa's erstwhile girlfriend Rickie. The battle between Price and his opponents turns nasty when a town meeting triggers a series of incidents intended to stop the building process, starting with a car bomb that takes out Price's car, followed by a blast that wipes out a local department store and then a bridge explosion in which a long-time resident is inadvertently killed. The high-profile violence attracts the FBI, but LaRosa makes most headway behind the scenes as the trail of suspects narrows to include LaRosa's rebellious father and Rickie's troubled son, Jack. The narrative is fast-paced and mesmerizing, as Lopez employs a combination of cynical, world-weary humor, a taut, riveting plot line and gritty but heartfelt character writing to push the story along. The climax is captivating, but what makes this effort truly memorable is the compassion with which LaRosa handles his moral quandary and Lopez's sure-handed command. (May)

Forecast: In the Clear is even more assured than Lopez's previous outing, Third and Indiana, and should move him up a notch in readership. The writer will embark on a four-city author tour, and his day job—as columnist for the L.A. Times—should assure him ample press coverage.

Reviewed on: 03/11/2002
Release date: 05/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
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