James Siegel, Author . Warner $23.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-446-53185-6

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DETOUR James Siegel . Warner , $23.95 (342p) ISBN 0-446-53185-5

Siegel's acclaimed debut, 2001's Epitaph , was eclipsed by last year's electrifying thriller Derailed (to be a feature film starring Jennifer Aniston), which reached bestseller lists and marked Siegel as an author with serious chops. It's no surprise that Siegel's third novel offers yet another exhilarating ride, albeit not quite up to the bar set by Derailed . The premise is terrific. Paul and Joanna Breibard, childless Manhattan professionals, travel to Colombia to adopt a baby, but are kidnapped by left-wing militia who make an offer they can't refuse: Paul must swallow 36 condoms stuffed with cocaine and deliver the contraband to a contact in New Jersey within 18 hours; if he fails, Joanna and the baby will die. But in New Jersey, Paul finds a burned-out shell of a house at the contact's address. For help, he contacts Miles Goldstein, the Orthodox Jewish lawyer who arranged the adoption, and when a further delivery attempt ends in gunplay, Paul and Miles turn to Moshe Skolnick, a Russian mobster; later, a DEA agent steps in. Meanwhile, Joanna is held hostage in a country house whose walls are stained with blood. Siegel keeps tension at a steady high throughout, in part by employing short chapters and paragraphs à la James Patterson. He makes great use of local color, not only of the easily exotic Colombian settings but also of the no less unusual Brooklyn Jewish and Russian enclaves where Paul finds himself. The novel features some smart twists, although a key one will be spotted by veteran thriller readers from the first page of its setup. Overall, this is first-rate entertainment, not quite as fresh as Derailed , but sure to brush bestseller lists as well as become a favorite airplane read both in hardcover and, eventually, mass market. Agent, Richard Pine. (Mar. 23)

Reviewed on: 01/10/2005
Release date: 03/01/2005
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