Guy Johnson, . . Random, $24.95 (688pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50567-6

Set in 1982, this marvelously entertaining sequel to Johnson's well-received first novel, Standing at the Scratch Line, continues the mythic saga of King Tremain, a knife- and gun-wielding Prohibition-era Robin Hood. Leaving a bloody trail of corpses from the bayous of Louisiana to New York and San Francisco, King's fight for survival against overwhelming odds offers a deeply affecting metaphor for black America's struggle for dignity and rights in the 20th century. The sequel picks up with San Francisco civil servant Jackson Tremain being summoned to the deathbed of his estranged grandfather, former mob-enforcer King, who has spent the past 28 years exiled deep in Mexico after being framed for the murder of white cops in San Francisco. Jackson flies to Mexico just in time to learn that he is the heir to a $50 million fortune. Returning to the Bay Area, Jackson learns that contracts are already out on his life from enemies determined to claim the fortune, and soon both he and his girlfriend are imperiled by King's old nemesis, bayou crime patriarch Pug DuMont, who's in cahoots with Bay Area mafiosi. Secret treasure, gang wars, voodoo, illegitimate heirs, damsels in distress—in the hands of a lesser writer, this would be cheap pulp fiction, but the gifted Johnson gives sweep and emotional resonance to the action-packed hijinks. (Aug.)

Forecast:Johnson's bio unabashedly reminds readers that the writer is the son of Maya Angelou, which shouldn't hurt sales—but Johnson acquits himself well in his own right.