BOOKS: MYSTERIES IN DRAG

THREE MALE THRILLER WRITERS TAKE A STAB AT CREATING HEROINES--ONLY ONE SUCCEEDS

BY VENERABLE TRADITION AND not-so-arcane formula, the first three thrillers from the top of the new year's pop-trash pile constitute a trend. Last year's trend was hard-boiled women detectives, by such hard-boiled women writers as Carol O'Connell (Mallory's Oracle) and Patricia Cornwell (The Body Farm). The new trend is, let's see (flip, flip), hard-boiled women, right, but (flip, flip) written by soft-to-medium-boiled men.

This may not be progress (What do guys know about lipstick stains on teeth?). At any rate, the results are, as critics say while fishing for a coin to toss, mixed. The Final Judgment, by Richard North Patterson...

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