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THRILLERS

SILENT SNOW, by Steve Thayer (Penguin Putnam, $24.95).

When a novelist becomes consumed with a real event, the result can be either a fascinating new look at history or a recitation of "the research I did on my summer vacation." There was remarkable potential in a rehash of the Lindbergh kidnapping, but Steve Thayer's second thriller, Silent Snow, doesn't quite reach it. It isn't an uninteresting book, but the plot is hugely improbable and the narrative is gratingly interrupted part way through by a flashback to the aftermath of the Lindbergh kidnapping. It really bogs things down.

Back from Thayer's first thriller, The Weatherman, is Pulitzer Prize-winning, burn-disfigured reporter Rick Beanblossom and television anchor Andrea Labore. They have a son, Dylan, who is kidnapped from his second-floor nursery by an intruder using a ladder on March 1, the Lindbergh anniversary. Other similarities abound. Ransom demands arrive by taxi. Rick is sent a $20 gold certificate, its serial number matching the ransom paid by the Lindberghs.

Everyone seems a suspect, from a tainted FBI agent to a dying old cop to a troubled young housekeeper who speaks to a ghost who inhabits the Beanblossom/Labore household. The resolution is quite a surprise, but the really bad person turns out to be way too bad to believe, and the purpose of Dylan's kidnapping way too esoteric to wrap the mind around. And it is a shame because with some greater care to plotting, Silent Snow could have wrapped up _ at least in theory _ some of the still-open questions about the Lindbergh case that have dogged America for much of this century.

THE DEVIL'S TEARDROP, by Jeffery Deaver (Simon & Schuster, $25).

There is a difference in storytelling between an interesting twist and a hairpin curve, but shock-thriller jock Jeffery Deaver keeps mistaking one for the other. From a reader's perspective, it means the ends of his books bring less serendipitous surprise than curves out of left field. Instead of satisfied, the reader might well feel tricked.

The latest culprit is The Devil's Teardrop, which takes place almost in its entirety on the last night of the century. A brilliant criminal mastermind has turned loose a mentally incapacitated killer who does anything he is told, including unleashing a silenced Uzi down a subway escalator in Washington, D.C. It is New Year's Eve day. The mastermind's note says the killer will strike every four hours through midnight unless his ransom is paid. District of Columbia officials decide to meet the demand, but when the ostensible author of the note is killed accidentally, no controller remains who knows how to turn off the killing machine, for the shooter's instructions are to keep going until his master tells him to stop.

The story begins to lose credibility when a journalist discloses the Washington shootings parallel recent crimes in Boston, New York City and Philadelphia. It strains credulity that four police departments so closely aligned along the East Coast and the FBI could miss the connection.

Deaver's quadriplegic New York forensic specialist Lincoln Rhyme makes only a cameo appearance in a story that focuses on a retired FBI handwriting expert, Parker Kincaid, and his struggle to stay out of a dangerous situation that could cost him custody of his two children.

The book is a page-turner, but the conclusion is a cover-slammer.

SAFE HARBOR, by Eugene Izzi (Avon, $24).

Those predisposed to like the work of Eugene Izzi will find that his final novel, Safe Harbor, sets an even higher bar that he will never be able to challenge because of his mysterious death three years ago. It is a spare, taut, altogether compelling piece of work about Tommy Torelli, a legman for mob boss Pete Papa, who turns informant and goes into a witness protection program.

There, he changes his life, marries, has a second child and runs a center for troubled children on Chicago's tough South Side. But when his cover is blown, Papa sends a truly nasty hit man to kill Torelli, now living as Mark Torrence. The hit man has a special reason to want to see Torrence dead. Torelli's defection caused the death of the hit man's girlfriend.

Izzi, whose 1996 death was ruled a suicide, spent years frustrated by his lack of success as a crime novelist outside his hometown of Chicago. Safe Harbor could have been his breakout book.

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

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