There is a caring heart on Gotham's mean streets

Redemption by Howard Fast Harcourt Brace 275 pp., $24

It's 3:30 in the morning as Ike Goldman, a retired Columbia University law professor, begins his long drive home from a dinner engagement with two close friends. The roads are empty.

As he approaches a dimly lit bridge, he slams on the brakes and slides to a halt. On the pedestrian walkway stands a woman hunched over the railing, preparing to jump.

"I wouldn't, if I were you," Goldman calmly utters, stepping out of his car. "It might not kill you at all, and that would leave you with months of agony - worse than whatever pain you're in now."

Fast forward six weeks: Goldman and Elizabeth, the woman he saved from the brink of suicide, are living together in his New York City bungalow. And although he's three decades her senior, they are very much in love and plan to be wed.

There's one problem, however: Elizabeth's ex-husband, a crooked Wall Street stockbroker and former Olympian, has been brutally murdered. The police have narrowed the suspect list to one person: Elizabeth.

"Redemption," Howard Fast's latest novel, revolves around one question: Did Elizabeth, a soft-spoken, loving, and deeply religious woman, do it?

Ike, blinded by love, doesn't want to think she did. But in the deep recesses of his mind, he can't be certain. And even if Elizabeth did commit the

murder, Ike has promised to stop at nothing to clear her name. After all, he believes Elizabeth's brutal ex deserved it.

After Elizabeth is arrested, Ike dips into his retirement savings to hire a top-notch defense lawyer - a headstrong, young black woman to whom he had taught contract law more than a decade ago. She's sassy and provides comic relief in the book's swiftly moving second half.

No doubt Fast is a talented storyteller - he has written, among others, "Spartacus," "Immigrants," and more recently, "An Independent Woman." But in this, his first suspense novel, he spends too much time making Ike and Elizabeth's relationship believable, treating it as though it were a shocking taboo. What Fast fails to realize is that in this day in age, differences in age aren't that much of a mystery.

*John Christian Hoyle is a freelance writer in New Orleans.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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