The Stickmen

Edward Lee, Author Cemetery Dance Publications $40 (0p) ISBN 978-1-881475-91-0

Continuing the tack of his 1999 UFOpus Operator B, Lee posts a pulpy tale steeped in X-Files paranoia of extraterrestrial contact and government cover-up. Conspiracy crank Harlan Garrett, a bottom-feeding journalist on the backlist of every rag that panders to the Roswell mindset, is down to his last dime when he's abducted to the deathbed of Norton T. Swenson, the brigadier general who mustered him out of the Air Force for his illegal investigations. Swenson admits to heading the team that salvaged a crash-landed UFO at Nellis, Nevada, in 1962, and gives Garrett the leads he needs to find the remains of the ship and its occupants under lock and key at an army base in Maryland. But Garrett soon finds himself the quarry of John Sanders, a renegade from Swanson's crew and now an assassin. Also on Sanders's hit list is Danny Vander, a an eight-year-old victim of alien abduction whose disturbing dreams of ""stickmen"" have a crucial connection to the theft of a nuclear device from an army munitions depot that will draw Garrett to him. Lee heaps so many conspiracy cliches onto his characters' shoulders that only Garrett has room to develop a personality. But the smart-aleck journalist proves just the right combination of sympathetic anti-hero and invulnerable Saturday matinee action figure to pull the reader along on his hyperventilating adventure. Like the saucer ride some of the characters purport to have taken, you don't believe this tale for a minute afterward, but it's exhilarating while it lasts. (Feb.)