Steve Thayer, . . New American Library, $10.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-451-20373-1

Bestselling thriller writer Thayer changes gears this time out with a semi-autobiographical novel about three generations of one family. If there is an undertone of therapeutic exercise in this book, it is because that is how the novel came about. As the author explains in an epilogue—a letter to Thayer's deceased father—he was told to write a letter to his dead father to help overcome a bout of depression. Instead, Thayer wrote from his home in Lake Elmo, Minn., to a fictional, biracial daughter named Angela who "began writing back" from Los Angeles. Along with his letters and Angela's diary entries, Thayer spliced in edited excerpts from his father's diary; the compiled assemblage forms the book. While there is a fair amount of dialogue and plot development in the various missives, the author is hemmed in by the format. Letters and diaries do not allow for the kind of rich narrative and vivid character interactions that we have come to expect from Thayer, who in earlier works has shown himself to be an accomplished storyteller. The contrivance of the format keeps the characters and their viewpoints separate, resulting in an overall flatness to the unfolding story about a man who scarcely knew his father and abandoned his daughter. Occasional scenes involving the daughter's abusive grandmother and a chilling description of sickle cell anemia, which killed Angela's mother, are well constructed. Thayer does a decent job of capturing three distinct voices here—the innocence of one who fought in WWII as he tries to understand the dissolution of his marriage; the tribulations of a baby boomer who has lost the love of his life; and an interracial pre-adolescent searching for her identity—but one longs for a more compelling and thorough examination of their lives. (July)