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Parnell Hall. Dutton Books, $18.95 (230pp) ISBN 978-1-55611-239-3

Purists may balk at this mystery's all-encompassing red herring, but will admit that it is convincing nonetheless. Stanley Hastings--Hall's hero in Detective and five other novels--supports a slack writing career by working as a private eye in New York City. While chasing ambulances for a law firm, he gets a walk-in client: wealthy Melissa Ford, a meek, homely woman who wants to investigate the intentions of her boyfriend, David Melrose. Stanley stakes out Melrose as he picks up a suspicious package, presumably containing drugs, in SoHo and then has a rendezvous with another woman. When Stanley reports his findings to Melissa, she angrily fires him; however, when Melrose is murdered and Melissa becomes chief suspect, Stanley feels it his duty to check out the possible Melrose drug connection. He tails various individuals from SoHo to Harlem and is shot by an unseen assailant in a deserted building. Before the twisting plot leads to two climaxes (one farcical) we get vivid looks at Manhattan's seamier side, pointers on one-on-one basketball and a sweet victory for a 10-year-old Harlem boy. (June)