cover image LITTLE GIRL BLUE


David Cray, . . Carroll & Graf/Penzler, $24 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-0943-4

In his third novel the pseudonymous Cray continues to explore the underbelly of New York City, but instead of the judicial system, as in 2000's Bad Lawyer, he takes a riveting look into the sordid world of child prostitution and pornography. NYPD Lieut. Julia Brennan of Manhattan North Homicide is the divorced mother of a teenaged daughter, Corry, and the affectionate niece of the aging Robert Reid, a popular Daily News columnist. When a young girl's frozen naked body is found in wintry Central Park, Brennan's squad investigates the death. An adept plotter, Cray knows how to build a gripping police procedural as the cops first locate the building the girl came from, then uncover a child prostitution and pornography business, as well as international adoption abuses. For Brennan, a tough, ambitious, rule-abiding police officer, the case becomes personal, due to her overwhelming grief for the victim and her growing attraction to Peter Foley, a loose cannon undercover Sex Crimes Unit cop. A lesser talent would have built suspense by having the killer kidnap Brennan, Corry, Uncle Bob or any combination. It doesn't happen here, although they're threatened and there's the obligatory chase. Cray's book is as driven by a cast of well-drawn characters—both hard-working, fallible good guys and repugnant pimps, pornographers and their customers—as by the rich, fast-moving plot. If a writer can produce a readable book about this odious subject, Cray has done it. The dark, atmospheric jacket sets just the right somber tone. (Jan. 1)

Forecast:With rights sold to Britain, Germany, France and Japan, expect this to do as well as last year's Bad Lawyer.