By Gerry Schmitt

Berkley Books. 325 pp. $26.

nolead ends nolead begins

Reviewed By Ginny Greene

Out of a swirling Minnesota snowstorm, a new hero trudges triumphantly off the pages of Gerry Schmitt's new thriller - a radical departure from the best-selling "cozy" mysteries Schmitt pens under her pseudonym, Laura Childs.

Unlike Schmitt's (or Childs') characters in her nearly 40 lace-edged whodunit novels, the protagonist in Little Girl Gone doesn't hang out in tea shops or do scrapbooking. Afton Tangler is a rock-climbing, no-nonsense detective wannabe who is hot on the trail of two kidnappers who have snatched a tiny tot from a Kenwood mansion after hog-tying the babysitter and fleeing into the Wisconsin countryside. Tangler, a community liaison officer with the Minneapolis police, wrangles herself into the investigation and digs out unlikely clues that FBI agents and other cops have failed to catch.

The action is nonstop and absolutely slathered in Twin Cities references - a mannerism the author graciously acknowledges was inspired by John Sandford's much grittier Minnesota detective thrillers. But this story is gritty enough, and she ends her chapters on a note of suspense that taunts you into starting the next, no matter how much you want to turn out the light and go to bed.

Little Girl Gone is taut and tense, a great tale to jump-start the Afton Tangler series. A sequel, as surely as Sandford's Lucas Davenport lives and breathes, is already in the works. Readers of this gripping debut will find themselves hoping it's a short wait.

This review originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.