On a sultry Los Angeles summer night, cop-turned-lawyer Stone Barrington should have been having the time of his life. The boat was spirited, the ocean calm, the lights of Catalina twinkling in the distance. He had $25,000 in found money and a steamy redhead awaiting him back on shore. Perfect, but for the fact that he was bound hand and foot, his mouth duct-taped shut, and his allergies to L.

A. smog blocking most of his breathing through his nose. Sublime, but for two thugs named Vinnie and Manny, who are currently chaining him to an anchor and manhandling him to the stern. Compliments of Onofrio Ippolito, Manny says maliciously, planting his foot in the small of Stone's back and kicking him overboard.

The balance of Swimming to Catalina is told in flashback: it seems that Stone's one-time girlfriend, Arrington, has gotten married to screen idol Vance Calder. (If she had married Stone, she would have been Arrington Barrington, which is too painful to contemplate.) Now Arrington has gone missing, and Vance Calder summons Stone to help find her. Oh, and one more small detail: Arrington is pregnant, perhaps with Stone's child. Reluctantly Stone leaves his digs in the Big Apple and catches the redeye to the Big Orange. Stone's inquiries into Arrington's disappearance do not go unnoticed by the criminal element of Los Angeles. It seems that wherever he goes a silver Lincoln Town Car follows. He changes hotels, changes cars, to no avail. The Town Car is registered to Onofrio Ippolito, a shady investment banker suspected to be linked to organized crime. The plot thickens . . . On the verge of a breakthrough, Stone receives a call from an excited Vance Calder: Arrington has returned, and Stone's services will no longer be required. (If this sounds a bit fishy to you, imagine how it sounds to Stone.) Stone decides to stay in L.

A. a few more days, albeit incognito, to sniff around and see what he can turn up. Before he's through a movie studio will be in turmoil, a criminal operation will be revealed, a mystery or two will be solved, and several people will wind up deceased.

In Swimming to Catalina, Stuart Woods has delivered another in a series of well-crafted, tightly plotted novels of suspense.

Bruce Tierney lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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