March 03, 1997 12:00 PM

by Steven Voien

Page-Turner of the Week

IT WOULDN’T MAKE GRAHAM GREENE with envy, but like the master’s The Heart of the Matter, this mystery adventure evokes a West Africa that tourists rarely see: AIDS-ridden, poverty-stricken and violent. Biologist and animal behaviorist David Trowbridge comes to the rain forest of fictional Terre Diamantée (similar to the Ivory Coast, where the author once worked for the State Department) to study leopards. What he discovers, along with the big cats, is a disturbing double murder of fellow biologists, a boiling political pot and an illegal plan to cut massive trees in the forest, home to countless species of wildlife. Sure, sexy and painstakingly observed as it crashes through the foliage, Leopard is also fascinating. Voien looks at chimpanzees, leopards and forest elephants with a fresh, informative eye. And his cast includes calculating scientists, embittered colonials and a most believable take on African politicians and tribespeople. Mystery fans can only hope that Voien and his hero sign on for another adventure. (Knopf, $23)

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