February 24, 1992 12:00 PM

by Ed McBain

Within two weeks, two attempts have been made on the life of Emma Bowles. First she was pushed onto a subway track, narrowly avoiding an oncoming train. Then a man behind the wheel of a Ford Taurus jumped a curb and tried to run her down. In both cases the assailant was remembered by the red woolen hat atop his head.

This is clearly a job for Det. Steve Carella and the men of the 87th Precinct, ably dispatched once again in McBain’s well-executed new mystery. Nearly every character who pops up on the pages of Kiss seems to have motives: Emma’s too handsome stockbroker husband, Martin Bowles; Birgitta Rundqvist, the busty baby-sitter; Roger Tilly, the Bowleses’ fired chauffeur. Even reputed private investigator Andrew Darrow, who is called in to protect Emma’s life, seems suspect.

Carella and his partners, who cover the crime beat in the city of Isola (a fictional stand-in for New York City), must make their moves quickly enough to prevent a murder. All the bloody machinations that follow add up to yet another fine addition to the growing library of 87th Precinct novels. McBain (Widows, Vespers) is a skillful writer who excels at pace, plot and, especially, the complex clockwork of a cop’s mind. (Morrow, $17)

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