cover image All or Nothing

All or Nothing

Elizabeth Adler. Delacorte Press, $23.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-385-33380-1

Best-selling romantic thriller author Adler (Now or Never; Sooner or Later) trots out a pair of lovebirds on the trail of a serial killer in her 12th novel. Hollywood Hills private investigator Al Giraud hails from New Orleans's wrong side of the tracks; a tough-talking dick, he's as much a lover as a sleuth. Marla Cwitowitz is the gorgeous 30-something lawyer who's crazy about him and, after wheedling Al to give her assistant PI status, becomes his partner both on and off the job. They are a stereotypically mismatched couple: Al asks high-class law professor Marla, ""What the hell d'ya see in me? An uneducated bum, an ex-cop, a two-bit P.I.? A lovely woman like you?"" But Marla adores his street smarts, dinner conversation, and lovemaking skills, and she's thrilled at the thought of working with her man investigating murders. The trouble begins when a real estate agent, California golden girl Laurie Martin, disappears. Burly detective Lionel Bulworth and his brazen assistant Pamela ""Pow!"" Powers believe Laurie's client Steve Mallard--whose job is forcing him to relocate his Los Angeles-based family to San Diego--is the guilty party. None too coincidentally, Al and Marla happened to notice Laurie and Steve together before the alleged murder. As far as they could tell, Laurie and Steve were not romantically involved, which does away with the cops' theory that Steve killed Laurie in a jealous rage. Steve's wife, the level-headed Vicki, hires Al and Marla to prove her husband's guilt or innocence. Inevitably, they tangle with the killer, and everyone's melodramatic gamble is the inspiration for the title clich . Occasionally evocative imagery counteracts irritating and incessant brand name-dropping and superficial characterizations. (Dec.)