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WHAT'S SO CRIMINAL ABOUT THAT?

Truck Shot By Jim Stinson
Scribners
211 pages, $17.95.
What made California novelist Jim Stinson's "Double Exposure" and "Low Angles" unusually readable was their 50-50 mixture of amateur crime detecting and insightful looks at independent filmmaking. But that balance is broken in "Truck Shot"; its villainy dominates the marquee, and filmmaking comes off as only a minor second feature.

As a result, Stinson's third mystery starring aspiring movie director-producer Stoney Winston merits only a lukewarm review, especially because the criminality tackled by Winston is, by today's Ivan Boesky standards, strictly ho-hum: a contest rip-off and real estate hustle that involve the down-at-the-heels film school where our hero teaches.

However, despite shortchanging the story's involvement with the world of low-budget Hollywood, the author keeps sleuth Winston as brash and brassy as ever, quick with the quip, and often highly amusing as he and his students borrow shamelessly -- and hilariously -- from dialogue exchanges out of old Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields flicks.

And, yes, "Truck Shot" includes several of those offbeat characters Stoney Winston insists upon associating with.

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