Peter Abrahams, Author . Ballantine $24.95 (291p) ISBN 978-0-345-43939-0

After two less-than-stellar outings (The Tutor; Last of the Dixie Heroes), Abrahams is once again at the top of his game in this wildly inventive, captivating caper. Make that several capers—this novel's multiple plot threads and unlikely assortment of characters carom off each other like so many carnival bumper cars. In typical fashion, Abrahams places a gaggle of ordinary folks in what gradually become distinctly unordinary scenarios, with an ever-so-creepy edge. In Arizona, divorcée Helen MacIsaac (Mackie) takes up stripping to make ends meet. Meanwhile, her 17-year-old daughter, Lianne, hooks up with a wrangler at nearby Ocotillo Ranch, the site of her dad's latest get-rich-quick scheme. Back east, Nick Loeb, a writer whose latest crime caper isn't up to snuff ("of course, that was only the opinion of Publishers Weekly") finds an unlikely muse in Mary Jane Krupsha, an amateur critic on Suggesting that Loeb get some on-the-job experience, she takes him to the Mexican border town of Agua Fría, where her ex-husband is captain of detectives. And where do you suppose Mackie is honing her ecdysiast routine? In Agua Fría, of course, at a boîte called Buckaroo's, which boasts "a towering sign with two red nipples in the os." Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the wrangler is enlisting Lianne's aid with a proposed bank hold-up in—of course—the busy burg of Agua Fría. And we haven't mentioned Mr. Samsonov, the owner of Buckaroo's, who's friendly with some nice Russian mafiya fellows, and who's taken a shine to dancer Red (aka Mackie). The author's up-to-the-minute pop-culture references lend an easygoing immediacy, and his wry humor is spot on—when one character wants to borrow a cell phone, he's answered, "Mind waiting a bit? Off-peak starts in three minutes." Off-peak, however, need not be a concern to readers of this bravura thrillfest. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 08/04/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
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