cover image Criminal Conversation

Criminal Conversation

Evan Hunter. Warner Books, $21.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-446-51755-3

Hunter's latest--his 19th since The Blackboard Jungle in 1954--shows a master's hand at popular fiction, as he employs engaging characters in a riveting plot that leads to an operatic, cathartic climax. Sarah Welles, 34-year-old wife, mother and schoolteacher, falls in love with 28-year-old Andrew Farrell, a suave, mysterious businessman. We know that he's really Andrew Faviola, scion and acting boss of a Mafia family with plans for massive profits from a new smokable opium-cocaine drug. He's also the target of the New York DA's special rackets squad headed by Sarah's husband Michael. Electronic eavesdropping shows Andrew, a seasoned rake, dropping all amours but Sarah, moving from cynical opportunism to true love. Meanwhile, the DA's focus turns to the unknown ``blonde.'' Sarah and Andrew's steamy sex scenes are caught on audiotape, and when her husband learns the blonde's identity it's only a question of when and how disaster will strike. We learn a lot about mob ``loyalty'' (Andrew is betrayed by his favorite cousin) and ignorance (a capo ponderously intones: ``The Chinese have a saying, `From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs' ''). Hunter can write funny dialogue, and he also wrenchingly portrays the desperate struggle of a sweet, very bright black girl--Sarah's favorite student--in a terrifying environment. As the prolific Ed McBain, Hunter writes the 87th Precinct novels; here he has fused his skills in bravura fashion. Film rights optioned by Tom Cruise; Mystery Guild main selection; Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternates; major ad/promo; author tour. (May)