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Colin Harrison, Afterburn

Colin Harrison’s (”Manhattan Nocturne”) Afterburn is not just a tightly structured novel of suspense but a rich and textured tale of character-as-destiny. Having lost his only son to leukemia and discovered that his daughter can’t have children of her own, multimillionaire Charlie Ravich advertises for a woman to bear his third child. Ravich, 58, accepts his mortality; what he can’t accept is genetic oblivion. His vanity sets in motion a chain of events that brings him together with Christina Welles, a bright and embittered young woman just released from a women’s correctional facility after serving time for ”conspiracy to possess stolen property.” Pursued through Manhattan by her former boyfriend, as well as by a career criminal and the police detective who sent her to prison, Christina feels compelled to cast off her old life and create a new identity — and sees her chance in Charlie Ravich.

Unlike so many other recent American crime novels (James Ellroy’s, for example) ”Afterburn” never splinters into cheap nihilism. Heroism and loyalty are still virtues here; they’re just awfully hard to practice. Hard, not impossible. Harrison has created a world that’s dangerous, cruel, overbright, too fast, and unreliable — but a world that’s worth staying alive in. This is a serious, stylish, generously humane work of fiction.