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By Elizabeth George
594 pages, $25.95

Bantam Books' recent announcement that it was releasing a new literary mystery by a woman author long known as "an American in Scotland Yard" caused a loud, excited buzz in American book publishing circles.

As well it should. Those tuned to the whodunit genre rightly interpreted the disclosure to mean that a new book by Californian Elizabeth George would soon burst upon national best seller lists.

Why? Because the multitalented George had done so before when she published the first 10 narratives in her series about murder and other mischief in England and featuring male and female Scotland Yarders mixing it up with baddies in cop-and-robber action in bleak corners of the United Kingdom.

The distaff sleuth is Barbara Havers, recently demoted from detective sergeant to detective constable for refusing to obey the order of a superior officer that would have resulted in the death of a little girl.

The novel finds Inspector Thomas Lynley of the Yard and Havers, his erstwhile partner, working at cross purposes. Lynley, while admiring Barbara's abilities, has no patience with her failure to follow the chain of command and, instead, always going her own way.

So, when he's assigned to investigate the deaths of two young people on Calder Moor, in Derbyshire, Lynley takes with him as his aid Detective Constable Winston Nkata, leaving Barbara in London.

Working in Derbyshire, Lynley sends Nkata to London to follow up leads there, and Nkata enlists Barbara's aid for some routine work on the case.

One of the murder victims in "In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner" is Nikola Maiden, the 25-year-old daughter of a retired officer of an elite police group with which Lynley once worked. Lynley's convinced Nikola was the primary object of the murderer -- not a 19-year-old male Londoner whose body was found with her at an ill-starred campsite nearby.

Barbara, as she follows up leads in London, contrary to Lynley's orders, is equally convinced Terry Cole, the Londoner, was the target.

On the face of it, it seems that Lynley is right. Nikola has dropped out of law school to enter the more profitable business of sadomasochistic prostitution. Terry, on the other hand, is a feckless youth, a would-be sculptor, always on the lookout to make a fast buck. He's never been in serious trouble and no one seems to have wanted him out of the way.

But Barbara thinks otherwise . . .

"In Pursuit of the Poper Sinner" is the latest of George's books to be chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.

The author, who travels regularly to Britain to research and write her novels, lives in Huntington Beach, Calif.

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