William Gray, Author, A. W. Gray, Author Simon & Schuster $21.5 (0p) ISBN 978-0-684-81096-6

The set-up, execution and payoff of a classic kidnapping is traced with cunning and skill in this accomplished novel. Preparation for the job involves three ex-cons and a secret partner, who scheme to split a $9.6 million ransom. To work the crime, they target Dallas ex-cop Frank White, who, during a recent prison stint for a justified shooting, linked up with the sexy Darla Bern, now one of the conspirators. White's involvement with Meg Carpenter, an employee of a posh private school for girls, makes him the perfect lever for the group. Rich details of regional theater, boarding school, prison life and banking practices lend credibility to the intricate narrative, which eventually calls upon White to use his detective's skills to track and combat the culprits. A counterfeiting plan, several nefarious double crosses and murders, as well as a spectacular showdown in a Santa Monica, Calif., beach house, lead to a satisfying resolution to this clever, clockwork crime thriller. (Apr.)