September 11, 2000 12:00 PM

by Les Roberts

Page-turner of the week

Cleveland private eye Milan Jacovich, an ex-college football player and divorced dad, steps into two cases involving threats to children in Roberts’s latest hard-boiled mystery. A sort of paunchy, laid-back Bogart, Milan has the tough guy’s code of ethics, but “with a mid-forties waistline and a Slovenian hairline fast heading north,” he admits, “I’m hardly the matinee-idol type.” In this outing, Milan runs surveillance on a toy-company employee who may be selling industrial secrets. He also volunteers information to the cops about a recently slain Native American man, which winds up jeopardizing his relationship with longtime gal pal Connie, who feels she pays too high a price for Milan’s Good Samaritan instincts.

When the veteran gumshoe begins prying into the murder, he runs afoul of Florence McHargue, the hard-nosed, sharp-tongued African-American lieutenant in charge of the police investigation. Eventually, of course, he earns an ounce of her grudging respect. These familiar elements work like narrative comfort food, and Roberts garnishes with some choice Slavic tidbits (klobasa is what you call kielbasa in Ljubljana). As in 1997’s The Cleveland Local, though, he holds back some major surprises until the clock has nearly run out. (Thomas Dunne, $23.95)

Bottom Line: Nifty spin on a classic P.I. formula

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