The author of four mysteries starring reporter Jesse James ( The Daphne Decisions , etc.) takes a break from her series to offer a simplistic plucky-heroine-in-a-tough-spot scenario that she gives narrative drive through a handful of gut-wrenching sequences involving a kidnapped child, and through a neatly drawn conclusion. Brooke Hayes, a divorced recovering alcoholic who is now trying to get back into acting and motherhood, receives a phone call from her panic-stricken daughter Charly, who manages only a few terrified words before the line goes dead. Ex-husband Nathan, with whom Charly currently lives, insists the child is fine but then disappears himself. Brooke turns for help to John Creed, a former cop perilously close to depression and terminal burnout whose own son disappeared five years ago, and who now lives in a Los Angeles house full of long-dead files, photos of missing kids, computer records and unsolved cases. O'Brien's various California locations seldom come to life, and in Brooke she has created an odd yet superficial character, but she manipulates the chase formula with great style, keeping Nathan's level of deceit carefully under wraps until very near the close, and delivering the requisite happy ending by means of a pleasantly off-center assignment of guilt. ( Oct. )
With this new suspense novel a la Mary Higgins Clark, O'Brien departs from her mysteries featuring tough reporter Jesse James ( The Daphne Decision , Bantam, 1990). Here she plumbs the emotions of a divorced mother, actress Brooke Hayes, trying desperately to get her life back on track after several years of drug and alcohol abuse so that she can gain joint custody of her young daughter Charly. Brooke has the lead role in a musical revival and seems on her way to recovery. After a strange call from Charly, Brooke is sure her daughter has been kidnapped, although her ex-husband swears Charly is safe. Because of her unstable past, Brooke receives little help from the police. She enlists the help of ``The Keeper,'' John Creed, an ex-cop whose mission is locating missing children. As Brooke and Creed trace Charly, they uncover a sinister conspiracy. This is taut, one-sitting reading with well-drawn characters and a compelling plot. Highly recommended where suspense fiction is in demand.--Dean James, Houston Acad. of Medicine/Texas Medical Ctr. Lib.