August 18, 1997 12:00 PM

by Arthur Hailey

Catholic priest turned Miami homicide detective Malcolm Ainslie is leaving on vacation when the phone rings. It is Elroy Doil, a brutal serial killer Ainslie helped convict, now hours away from the electric chair, and he wants to make a final confession. What he has to say will shake Ainslie’s theories about the murders and put him on the trail of another killer, all too close to home.

The result is a provocative story about justice and character. Hailey’s meticulous research imbues Detective with the same gritty realism that helped turn his previous efforts (including Airport, Hotel and The Evening News) into bestsellers. Here the pacing feels a little off, though. Hailey’s lengthy explanations of police radio codes and salary debates prove he knows his stuff, but they also slow down the story, as do flashbacks to Ainslie’s altar-boy childhood. Too bad, since Ainslie is such an intriguing hero. Noble yet flawed, he carries around his own guilt like a service revolver and quotes the Bible as easily as the penal code. With luck, Hailey will bring him back—next time in a smoother story. (Crown, $24)

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