cover image Streets of Fire

Streets of Fire

Thomas H. Cook. Putnam Publishing Group, $19.95 (319pp) ISBN 978-0-399-13490-6

In this expert, relentless detective novel by the author of Flesh and Blood and last year's Edgar-nominated Sacrificial Ground , the sweltering, angry summer of 1963 in Birmingham, Ala., serves to make every crime a powderkeg of racial tension. As the rest of the police force is being called upon to hose demonstrators, to arrest marching schoolchildren and even to take notes on Martin Luther King's speeches for their inflammatory content, detective Ben Wellman investigates the rape and murder of a deaf 12-year-old black girl. Wellman's boss wants him to make a minor show of concern without really pursuing the criminal, the black community greets his efforts with mistrust and skepticism, and his fellow cops, most of them rednecks and racists, view his dedication as misplaced. As Wellman probes further, he discovers that all sides have reasons to hope that the case remains unsolved. Cook doesn't use the civil rights movement merely as a conveniently atmospheric backdrop; he weaves it through the plot in sharp, unexpected ways, never letting his focus stray too far from Wellman's dogged attempt to find an elusive killer. Paperback rights to Warner Books; movie rights to Hollywood Pictures; Preferred Choice and Detective Book Club selections; BOMC and Mys terious Book Club alternates. (Sept.)