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By Lorenzo Carcaterra

Ballantine, $24.95, 335 pp

Reviewed by JEAN HELLER

If the name Lorenzo Carcaterra sounds familiar, it might be because you've seen him listed among the writer/producer credits for NBC's perennial megahit, Law & Order. Whatever restraint Carcaterra displays on television in keeping overt violence to the barest minimum, he throws off in his new novel, Paradise City, but that's okay. It's a powerful read.

Giancarlo Lo Manto is a member of the police force in Naples, Italy, a lone wolf obsessed with the Carmorra, a Mafia-like organization with tentacles that reach all the way to New York City, the place of Lo Manto's birth. His fanaticism is focused on the crew run by Pete Rossi in New York. Rossi's father ordered Lo Manto's gambling-addicted father shot to death, which resulted in the Lo Manto's relocation to Naples as a child and his adult fixation on payback.

In Naples, Lo Manto has snitches everywhere who tip him to Rossi-financed drug deals, which he then methodically, and sometimes violently, dismembers. Across the Atlantic, Rossi has had enough of it and has tried unsuccessfully on a number of occasions to have Lo Manto carved out of his life, only to be foiled. To lure Lo Manto to Rossi's turf, he orders the abduction of Lo Manto's niece, who is visiting in New York for the summer.

Lo Manto, who has powerful friends in the New York police department, gets some willing help in finding the girl. But since he is not allowed to carry a gun in the city, he must reluctantly accept the babysitting of an equally reluctant local detective, Jennifer Fabini. Jennifer resents being taken away from her own assignments for what promises to be a routine search for a lost child. But she soon learns differently. No sooner have the two teamed up than they become the targets of hit men, whom they manage to dispatch without breaking a sweat. Now Jennifer is interested.

There is nothing in Paradise City that will make you want to lay the book aside and never pick it up again, but there are a few "conveniences" that stretch credulity. The true story about Lo Manto's father is one of them. The ease with which Jennifer elicits the story from an old woman is another. But the biggest of all is the story's denouement. If you can believe how things turn out between Lo Manto and Rossi, you can believe in the Tooth Fairy.

Carcaterra also has an annoying habit of simply ignoring plotting problems he can't resolve or is unwilling to spend time resolving. An example is Lo Manto's rescue of his niece from a restroom in Grand Central Station. He just pops out of a stall, knowing she will be there, and also knowing she is being followed by two of Rossi's goons. How he knows any of this we're never told, although it is hinted at much later and not in a very satisfying way.

On the other hand, there are some wonderful secondary characters, very nicely drawn by Carcaterra. One of them is Felipe, a street kid wise beyond his years, and Rossi himself, who vacillates between a caring man who wants nothing bad to happen to Lo Manto's niece and a bloodthirsty don who orders a man buried alive for failing to complete an assignment. While Paradise City has flaws, it is a darned good yarn with plenty of action and dialogue as authentic as the streets of New York.

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