John Saul, Author . Ballantine $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-345-43330-5

Why mess with success? Twenty-four novels and 24 years down the road, Saul continues to deliver the same sleek pulp entertainment that he's been selling—in high numbers—since his debut with Suffer the Children in 1977. This time out, Saul sets his melodramatics mostly below the surface of Manhattan, in the tunnels populated by the homeless. Because of mistaken eyewitness testimony, Columbia University architecture student Jeff Converse has been convicted of attempted rape and attempted murder. En route to Rikers Island, the police van carrying Jeff is rammed, and Jeff is taken by a homeless man into the tunnels, only to be locked in a room with another prisoner, homicidal maniac Francis Jagger. Days later, Jeff and Jagger are released into the tunnels, told that if they make it to the outside world, they live; if they don't, they die. Eventually we learn that an elite group of Manhattan power brokers has created a club devoted to hunting convicted malefactors and having their bodies stuffed in the manner of big game trophies, using the underground homeless as beaters in the hunt. Meanwhile, Jeff's fiancée and father search desperately for Jeff, first above ground, then below. The novel builds suspense steadily, but reaches full steam only when Saul plunges his principals mercilessly into the stygian underworld of Manhattan. The premise of a Manhattan Hunt Club skirts absurdity, as do the villainous members of the club, but Saul scores points about society's treatment of the homeless. The prose is serviceable, the action rough, intense and often distasteful—in other words, this is vintage Saul. (Aug.)

Forecast:With major ad/promo, including a sample chapter in the mass market edition (June) of Saul's Nightshade, this will reach the author's fans. Expect many to travel with Saul into the nasty depths, only to breathe deeply as they look up from the book to a sandy beach and clean ocean waves.

Reviewed on: 05/21/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
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