Colin Bateman, . . Delacorte, $15.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-385-73244-4

Launching the Eddie and the Gang with No Name trilogy, Bateman's (Divorcing Jack ) debut children's novel is a zany caper cloaked in the droll, dark comedy that marks his adult fiction. Eddie's placid life on the coast of Ireland ends abruptly when the 12-year-old's mother announces that his father has run off with her doctor boss, and she has found a new nursing job in a hospital in a gritty section of Belfast. Soon after they move, Scuttles, the chief of hospital security, apprehends Eddie, assuming he is a member of the Reservoir Pups, a local gang that scams passersby. When his mother scolds the boy, Eddie insists he is innocent of any wrongdoing and utters prophetic words: "I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time." Bateman's rippingly paced, cleverly convoluted plot places Eddie in a number of precarious spots, among them the hospital garage at the very time that kidnappers are filling a van with 12 newborns they've snatched from the maternity ward. Along with an Albino girl, who is allegedly a member of a rival gang, and Scuttles, whose coworkers are involved in the crime, Eddie sets out to rescue the infants, a madcap mission that finally lands them in the hands of the megalomaniac head of a beauty products empire. How all the strands come together in this innovative, farfetched tale makes for great entertainment, and Bateman's appealing young hero is entirely credible. Readers will want to tune in for Eddie's next set of adventures. Ages 10-14. (Jan.)