BLOOD ON THE STREET.
340 pages. $18.50.
"I see blood on the street." That is the grim warning a fortune teller gives Leslie Wetzon, a top Wall Street executive-placement specialist, after looking at her palm. Spooked by the seer's premonition, Wetzon starts to worry when a successful broker she'd just placed with a new firm fails to show up for his first day of work. The broker, Brian Middleton, was due to pick up a $225,000 bonus from his new employers, and Wetzon and her partner, Xenia Smith, would have collected a fat placement fee.
Sure enough, Brian's body is found in Central Park, and it soon becomes obvious that he was the victim of murder, not a mugging. There are plenty of suspects, including Brian's bitter ex-wife, Rona; Rona's friend Penny Ann, angry because Brian lost her $200,000 nest egg through careless investing; and Penny's teen-age daughter Tabby Ann, who was having an affair with the stockbroker.
Caring, compassionate Wetzon, a former Broadway dancer who's still something of a fish out of water on Wall Street, is an appealing heroine (in sharp contrast to her glitzy, greedy partner). Annette Meyers' fourth Smith and Wetzon mystery is stylish and suspenseful, the perfect escapist entertainment for these hard economic times. Bedlam reigns in the emergency room of the New York hospital where dedicated young resident Kate Forrester is the only doctor on duty. Alas, she hasn't time to coddle the young woman with the vague symptoms and the pushy mother.
Given the title and the situation, it doesn't take a genius to figure out what's going to happen: Claudia Stuyvesant dies in the ER, and her father Claude -- one of the richest men in New York and certainly the meanest -- decides to destroy Kate, an exemplar of all that's good and noble in youth, medicine and family values. Luckily, the hospital's law firm assigns to her defense a smart young lawyer who is equally dedicated to goodness -- and you can guess the rest.
There's nothing wrong with a story about a battle between good and evil, of course, though some authors do it more subtly. More irritating is the predictability; in broad outline and small detail, too much of it is telegraphed too far in advance.
WHAT JOHNNY SHOULDN'T READ: TEXTBOOK CENSORSHIP IN AMERICA.
200 pages. $25.
Sure, many of the radical Christian fundamentalists have said some pretty wacky things in their recent courtroom battles against what they perceive to be racy textbooks. "Mare (sic) anarchy descends upon the world," one witness informed a jury, "and the culture collapses whether before what Toynbee calls the external Bavarian, the foreign foe, or what he calls the internal Bavarian, the probitarian, the classes within the society which has ceased to believe in anything and which give nothing to the state but their bodies and their prodigy."
But, however loony some of the fundamentalists may be, Joan DelFattore, an English professor at the University of Delaware, does not support her contention that the changes they suggest in public school textbooks (e.g., that biology texts recount the Biblical tale of creation) should be taken less seriously than the changes liberals suggest (e.g., that African-American heroes receive more pages in a history textbook). Conservative challenges are less valid, she argues a bit too glibly, because they address more topics, from "the age of the Earth [to] the probable domestication of the dinosaurs." Dr. DelFattore offers a clear and thorough overview of the courtroom battles, but she doesn't seem to see that liberals and conservatives are both raising the same question: Which values and myths do we want to inculcate in our children?