May 06, 2002 12:00 PM

By T. Jefferson Parker

Page-turner of the week

Sgt. Merci Rayborn carries a lot of baggage, which she likes to slam on people’s toes. In this third novel (following The Blue Hour and Red Light) tracking her life as a California detective, she comes to terms with her actions in Red Light, in which she blew the whistle on tainted cops including her father and even, mistakenly, her boyfriend. Here Rayborn investigates an amnesiac officer, Archie Wildcraft, who may have killed his wife and botched his suicide. While the recovering Archie struggles to pull his memory from the “black water” where it lurks, higher-ups press for a quick resolution that will keep remaining police dirt safely under the rug. But Merci is none too eager to nail a cop wrongly again.

Readers may find that a subplot involving the bioengineering of medicine from snake venom lacks bite, and there are awkward overtones of Ghost when Archie’s wife speaks from beyond.

The plot is most engaging in personal moments, as when Parker evokes the effects of crime on Archie’s parents, and tough-talking Merci is so perversely I enjoyable that Parker J could probably spin his color-coded series all the way to vermilion. (Hyperion, $23.95)

Bottom Line: Dive In

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