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    Thrillers

    By JEAN HELLER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 22, 2000


    PERISH TWICE, by Robert B. Parker (Putnam, $23.95)

    Perish Twice, the second installment in Robert B. Parker's female Boston P.I. series, is more complex and textured than the first. And Sunny Randall, the character Parker created for actor Helen Hunt, continues to entertain as Spenser Lite.

    Mary Lou Goddard, a feminist consultant, is aggressively lesbian. She hires Sunny to protect her from a male stalker with whom she might have had a brief affair. She wants nothing of the affair made public, however, because she fears it would hurt her image and, thereby, business. The stalker threatens to hurt Goddard, and shortly thereafter, one of Goddard's employees, who bears a striking resemblance to the boss, is shot to death. A case of mistaken identity? Maybe so, since the stalker then turns up dead with a suicide note at his side. He shot the employee by mistake, he wrote, thinking she was Goddard, and now he can't live with himself.

    The police accept the situation at face value since it closes two cases. But Sunny pursues it deep into the vice-ridden underbelly of Boston, peeling back layers of deception and deceit, getting some pretty potent folks angry with her along the way. It would be nice if Sunny weren't so dependent on the men in her world to keep her out of trouble, but perhaps it's unavoidable. As she notes herself, men are bigger and stronger and more intimidating than women.

    As usual, when Parker writes about dogs he is especially entertaining, which makes Rosie, the miniature bull terrier, one of the best characters in this ensemble.

    * * *

    THE DEVIL'S CODE, by John Sandford (Putnam, $25.95)

    Before there was John Sandford's popular Prey series, there was Kidd -- artist, computer hacker, criminal and all-around good guy. Sandford claims he resurrected Kidd now in The Devil's Code at the request of fans, including his own son. Since the Prey series has been fairly tepid lately, the break might do Sandford good. It's certainly good for his fans.

    When Kidd begins investigating the shooting death of a colleague in Texas, he finds himself embroiled in the affairs of St. John Corbeil, a Texas entrepreneur, who developed the ultimate in computer encryption. While his chip was embraced by the federal government, it never caught on with the rest of the world, and Corbeil was forced to find another way to make his millions. Whatever the scheme, he is ready and willing to kill to protect it.

    Meanwhile, hackers in Europe assault the IRS computer system. They adopt the name Firewall, actually a fictitious group created by Corbeil to cover his own illegal activities. Unfortunately for Kidd and his hacker friends, their screen names are attached to Firewall, so when the National Security Agency and the FBI begin arresting hackers, they find themselves in danger.

    Working with LuEllen, a burglar and sometime girlfriend, and with a master hacker known only as Bobby, Kidd tries to get to the bottom of the shooting that started all this while staying a step ahead of Corbeil and the law.

    As a device, Bobby makes it too easy for Kidd to get inside information, and the way Kidd and LuEllen spend money might make you wonder where it's coming from (Kidd doesn't sell that many paintings a year). But never mind. The Devil's Code is action-filled and good fun.

    * * *

    THE MILE HIGH CLUB, by Kinky Friedman (Simon & Schuster, $23)

    The Kinkster returns with The Mile High Club, a story about, um, himself, playing New York private eye and collector of cat droppings. The fictional Kinky Friedman meets a beautiful woman aboard an airplane. Near the end of the flight, she asks Friedman to watch her pink bag and then disappears into thin air. Friedman waits for her on the plane, at baggage claim and at home, all the while wondering what it is the woman has locked in that pink bag and where she disappeared to.

    Very quickly, Kinky learns that the State Department and a group of Arab terrorists want that bag desperately and will hurt people to get it, and Kinky finds a dead Israeli agent sitting on his toilet. Quickly, our hero and his band of Village Irregulars are running for their lives.

    The outcome is the bawdy resolution you would expect from the versatile entertainer who wrote the cult classic song They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Any More. There is only one Kinky Friedman, for which the world can be grateful.

    - Jean Heller is the author of the mystery-thrillers Handyman and Maximum Impact (Forge).

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