February 25, 1991 12:00 PM

by Sam Reaves

The title of this gritty mystery debut derives from a fatal tumble a woman takes off the balcony of her Chicago high rise. The cops call it suicide. But Cooper MacLeish, a disillusioned 40-year-old cabbie-Vietnam vet who loved her years before, isn’t convinced.

The interest he takes in the case leads him to inherit a mixed-up 14-year-old who just may be his son, along with a sociopathic ex-con who would like to be his killer.

Reaves has written a smartly paced mystery, full of terse, adrenalized action and punchy writing. He also paints a brutal cityscape of Chicago, fiercer than the wind that knifes in from Lake Michigan.

The only flaws are that the book, like an aging cabbie, gets thick through the middle, and Reaves doesn’t develop his villain, a vicious man with a facial tattoo. Elmore Leonard would devote alternate chapters to the twisted mentality of this monster.

What sets this book apart is that, in dire circumstances. MacLeish holds to several ameliorating relationships. That’s a nice twist: a detective yarn about people who need people. (Putnam, $19.95)

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