September 28, 1987 12:00 PM

by John William Corrington and Joyce H. Corrington

In the best mystery fiction a sense of place can be as important as the main characters. The Corringtons’ locale is New Orleans, a wonderfully complex city, and their book explores the city’s social structure with originality and subtlety. The heroine of A Civil Death, Denise Lemoyne, is rich, but she has chosen to work as an assistant district attorney. She loves a reporter on the Item, a newspaper owned by her uncle. The reporter is a smart redneck. Then there is a charming Cajun, a thug from the city’s vast underbelly, a beautiful judge whose family were Cuban refugees and the astute cop Rat Trapp, who is black. They make a disparate group, and New Orleans, a place of legendary corruption, hums with potential violence. As the book begins, Lemoyne talks a hired killer, who has taken a hostage in a supermarket, into giving himself up. Later, her godmother, the publisher’s daughter, is shot to death. The victim’s handsome Cajun husband, who charms every woman he meets, is the major suspect, but Lemoyne thinks he’s innocent. The Corringtons are especially good at setting scenes: The living room of a black housekeeper’s own home is flawlessly described, and New Orleans cuisine is even tastier to read about here than it is to eat. An earlier Corrington novel, A Project Named Desire, with the same leading characters, was a violent tale of poverty, drugs and a rock star. While A Civil Death is more conventional, the suspense builds nicely, and a surprising number of loose ends are neatly linked at the end. Mystery fans won’t find anything much better than this. (Viking, $15.95)

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