March 18, 2002 12:00 PM

By James Patterson with Andrew Gross

As the titles of this novel and its predecessor, last year’s 1st to Die, suggest, Patterson is prone to by-the-numbers writing for this Women’s Murder Club series. Still, briskly paced plot twists, snack-size chapters and inspiring heroines ensure that his formula adds up. Sure, 2nd Chance lacks the literary rewards of more ambitious thrillers, but it’s a solidly engineered whodunit.

This time out, San Francisco homicide lieutenant Lindsay Boxer must match wits with another serial killer, who kicks things off by shooting an African-American girl on the steps of a church. Is the killer simply racist, or are his motives more complex? With the help of three equally high-powered female friends—an assistant district attorney, a medical examiner and a newspaper reporter—who jokingly call themselves the Women’s Murder Club, Boxer untangles the mystery and uncovers some dark secrets in her own family’s past. Patterson and coauthor Andrew Gross slip in some juicy subplots about the other club-mates, an unusually well-developed bunch of second bananas. How about giving one of them the starring role next time? (Little, Brown, $26.95)

Bottom Line: Worth chancing

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