Clinton McKinzie, Author . Delacorte $21.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-385-33625-3

McKinzie, a keen climber, portrays the hero of his debut thriller, Wyoming special agent Antonio Burns, as happiest when he is in the wild, hanging by his fingernails from a sheer rock wall. The problem is, he has to deal with life on level ground: he's in trouble for shooting three drug dealers in self-defense, his wild but cherished brother is in jail and the redneck local law officers he has to deal with are trying to railroad a pair of innocent lowlifes to the chair. In addition, he's looking into the fatal fall off a cliff of a young woman who had been partying with the son of an ambitious DA. McKinzie knows his wild Wyoming, and also how to keep things moving briskly. Burns, who is soon on the track of a rogue climber who likes to surround himself with pretty girls and potheads, takes his share of knocks along the way, and there is a nail-biting—if not entirely convincing—climax on a mountain in a storm. But as often happens with first novels, it's overplotted: there's simply too much going on at once, and poor Burns gets badly beaten at least once too often to convince a reader that he could even stand up, let alone get up a tough rock face in the dark solo; his jailed brother plays an unexpected and not too believable role at a pivotal moment; and the on-again, off-again romance with a glamorous reporter seems more dutiful than organic. Still, this gets good marks for ringing a change or two on the chase thriller, and we're now promised a prequel, starring the same gutsy hero. (June 4)

Forecast:The publisher has pulled out the stops in getting endorsements from a raft of box-office names including Tess Gerritsen, Philip Margolin, Michael Connelly and Robert K. Tanenbaum, but it remains to be seen whether the rather arcane climbing lore will kindle enthusiasm among action-thriller fans.

Reviewed on: 03/18/2002
Release date: 05/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Compact Disc - 978-0-7366-8663-1
Compact Disc - 978-0-553-71344-2
Downloadable Audio - 1 pages - 978-1-4159-5388-4
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-553-71343-5
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