5 JUNE 1964, Page 22

NICHOLAS BLAKE'S kidnap victim in The Sad Variety (Crime Club,

15s.) is a resourceful small

girl whose worst moment is waking to find her identity gone. A strange boy with cropped yellow hair stares back at her from the mirror.

The country is combed for the snatched child, daughter of a nuclear scientist whose new dis- covery the Reds hope to barter for her. Snow- drifts and blocked roads aggravate the tense search. A guesthouseful of inquisitive characters provides a diverting chorus of assorted British prejudices.

Cluff responds like a precision thermometer to every quiver in the town's atmosphere. He has a helpless presentiment of disaster long before the news reaches him. Sergeant Cluff and the Madmen by Gil North (Chapman and Hall, 16s.) contains two stories in which Cluff's un- canny understanding of people leads him beyond the obvious suspects to the real killers.

E. V. Cunningham's hilarious new heroine Shirley (Deutsch, 16s.) is a tough Bronx kid who's proud of her good job and her fitted carpet. Experience has taught her to take nothing for granted, so she's not really surprised when gangsters arrive to kidnap her. It's her bright wits against their greed in a funny, endearing plot which includes a bargain-basement prince and a gentle but fearless millionaire. Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male (Michael Joseph, 18s; reprint) is most compulsive. The idea of stalking a dictator as if he were a magnificent stag has the kind of absurd con- fidence that belongs to the era of amateur war. The aristocrat responsible goes to earth like a fox and lives there undetected for ages. It's an astonishing picture of the hunted mentality, where instinct gradually overpowers reason.

Everyone was surprised when a meek little rent-collector was accused of embezzlement in J. F. Straker's The Shape of Murder (Harrap, 15s.). It seemed too large a gesture for someone so stingy and drab. The poor fellow even bungled his beano with a skirt because some thugs robbed and beat him on the way. A com- plex pattern of motives and personalities en- courages .speculation while the killer is neatly checkmated by his victim.

Cops must think crime's quite easy when they file so many unsolved cases. In Lionel White's The Money Trap (Boardman, 12s. 6d.) a detec- tive's faltering marriage tempts, him into a perfect robbery. The story starts gay and carefree, but tension gets steadily chillier when a fortune is stashed in a freezer.

Police limp blindly after private-eye Donald Lam in A. A. Fair's Fish or Cut Bait (Heine- mann, 15s.), but this time Lam's arrogant self• confidence sours them into thinking hint the killer. Then a lovely dame tells all. The cops get the credit while lashings of lolly and lipstick amply reward the Lam-Cool partnership.

Bill Knox is a blood-and-guts writer and his villain, in The Scavengers (John Long 13s. 6d.), has an aptly hideous death. Carrick learns too much about the shady political activities of cer- tain fishing trawlers. Enemy reprisals start at poisoned aqualungs and go on to a chilling deep- sea struggle, with nets on the ocean floor.

Charles . Williams's hero is victim of all elaborate frame-up that suggests he's a double murderer. He spends The Long Saturday Nighl (Cassell, 13s. 6d.), and a good many tenterhoolc hours earlier, frantically groping, for the truth about his fickle beauty of a wife and the

who smashed her face in.