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SANTE FE RULES by Stuart Woods

SANTE FE RULES

By Stuart Woods

Pub Date: June 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-06-017963-5
Publisher: HarperCollins

 Woods (New York Dead, 1991, etc.) may hail from Sante Fe, but he doesn't do his hometown much honor with this slack mystery/homage. Even Sante Fe's gorgeous desert setting fades against the blinding silliness of Woods's plotting here. A nifty premise sets up the story: Middle-aged film producer Wolf Willett, stranded at the Grand Canyon, opens a New York Times to read that his gorgeous young wife, Julia, his best pal, and...himself! have been shot dead at his Sante Fe home. But rather than run with that kick-off by having Wolf stay officially dead and investigate the murders incognito, Woods has his hero fly on to L.A.--and finish work on his latest movie. A week or so later, Wolf returns to Sante Fe and, anticipating legal trouble, hires legendary defense lawyer Ed Eagle--a 6'7'' tower of chutzpa who's the only character here who rises above clichÇ. Under Ed's expensive guidance, Wolf manages temporarily to stave off arrest for triple-murder by the suspicious local cops, who finally figure out that the body misidentified as Wolf is really that of the sleazy ex-husband of Julia's nearly identical sister, Barbara--who shows up and begins a fling with Ed Eagle. Meanwhile, Wolf's psychiatrist is murdered. Finally arrested for the triple-slaying, Wolf is tossed into jail--and learns that Julia stole his $3.5 million savings just before she died. Fortunately, a former IRS agent retrieves Wolf's money, and, while in jail, Wolf is adopted by a biker named Spider, who, impressed that Wolf once shook hands with Madonna, offers help that proves invaluable after someone puts out a contract on Wolf--someone who looks a lot like Barbara/Julia.... All this cockeyed mayhem sorts out in the end, of course, as Woods winds up with this happy sentence starring Wolf's pet pooch: ``Flaps lifted her head and grinned at everybody''--a fitting conclusion to this shaggy-dog story of a novel, a shockingly poor showing from an author who's sometimes (e.g., Chiefs; Under the Lake) terrific.