cover image Heat


Stuart Woods. HarperCollins Publishers, $23 (346pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017776-8

Woods's sixth novel in three years is likely to follow its predecessors ( L.A. Times , etc.) onto bestseller lists. In this artfully plotted thriller, ex-DEA agent Jesse Warden, wrongly convicted of a murder he suspects was the work of Dan Barker, his former superior, is offered a chance at a presidential pardon if he will infiltrate the sinister religious cult that has taken control of St. Clair, Idaho. Despite knowing that he will again be under the control of Barker and that two previous agents investigating the cult have vanished, Jesse can't refuse. Going incognito, he gets a job at the town's only business not controlled by the cult and is brazenly seduced by his new landlady, lovely widow Jenny Weatherby. As Jesse sets out to win the confidence of the menacing head of the sect, Jack Gene Coldwater, he comes under close surveillance by Coldwater's two henchmen. In spite of some nearly fatal mistakes, however, he manages to gain the trust of the charismatic and seemingly psychic cult leader. Meanwhile, Jesse marries Jenny, who's pregnant. Faced with the catch-22 of how to deliver Coldwater and his ruthless subordinates to the treacherous Barker, whom he is sure will not come through with the promised pardon, Jesse must find a way to bring himself and his new family to freedom. The ending may strike readers as far too fortuitous, and the pardon premise is old hat ( The Dirty Dozen , etc.), but high melodrama and unexpected twists make this teflon-coated blockbuster business as usual in Wood's practiced hands. $100,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild super release and Doubleday Book Club alternate; author tour. (July)