cover image Beyond Belief

Beyond Belief

Roy Johansen. Bantam Books, $23.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-553-80115-6

Incredible events that beg a supernatural explanation challenge the deeply ingrained skepticism of Atlanta police detective Joe Bailey in this crafty paranormal crime thriller. A former stage magician who debunks swindling spirit mediums, psychic surgeons and similar charlatans, Bailey nicknamed the ""Spirit Basher"" has his work cut out for him in trying to solve the grisly death of a parapsychology professor impaled midway up the wall of his apartment by a sculpture too heavy for any person to lift. He refuses to believe that moody eight-year-old Jesse Randall, a supposed psychic prodigy, may have unintentionally murdered the man by unleashing an unconscious ""shadow storm"" during sleep. But while Joe is determined to prove the boy a con artist, others are not so dismissive, among them a psychopathic killer convinced that Jesse is the ""Child of Light"" prophesied by his millennialist cult. Though Johansen (The Answer Man) offers half-hearted psychological rationales for some characters' motives, he mostly keeps the story to its surface, which he polishes brilliantly to allow for the collision of nonstop, tricky plot complications, including a mysterious money laundering scheme by the dead prof, Joe's romance with a medium he's investigating and Jesse's helicopter abduction from a church service by armed assailants. Many, but not all, of the supernatural scams are explained by the novel's end, and readers will have fun trying to keep up with the tale's rapid pace and Johansen's nimble sleight-of-hand. (Apr. 10) FYI: Johansen won an Edgar for his cable-TV screenplay, Murder 101.