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'This Dame for Hire'

By Sandra Scoppettone

Ballantine, $21.95.

Crime writer Sandra Scoppettone is onto something with her new gimmick. She sets her latest mystery, "This Dame for Hire," in New York City, 1943.

Most of the men are off at war. Her heroine, Faye Quick, used to be a secretary to a private detective. When he left for the front, he asked Quick to keep his business going.

Some might find the private-eye dialogue contrived, even trite, but most will find it great fun. Here's a sample: About a snooty doorman, Quick says, "He directed me to the elevator but not before he gave me the once-over and showed me a kisser that said I didn't pass muster."

Scoppettone seems to have done her research on dialogue and setting. She needed to have done more research — or perhaps a different editor could have helped — on how attitudes of the time varied between social classes.

Abortion is central to the plot. Scoppettone's characters are supposed to be the 1940s, when abortion was illegal and yet was as much a part of society as liquor was during Prohibition. Her characters should be jaded. Instead, they seem earnest. They seem like evangelicals from this century.

Problem No. 2 is the flip side of problem No. 1. A working-class gal from the 1940s may well have used the words "Jap" and "Nip." But today's readers don't like their heroines talking that way.

Those complaints aside, there's something appealing about this gumshoe Fay Quick. Readers may be willing to give Scoppettone another chance.—Susan Whitney

'Up From Zero'

By Paul Goldberger

Random House, $14.95 (softcover).

One of the most controversial and heartwrenching problems in the wake of 9/11 is what should be built at ground zero?

In this interesting book, reprinted from the original hardback edition of 2004, Paul Goldberger, a Pulitzer Prize-winner in journalism, has written a historical and analytical account of the various plans considered for the site.

The site comprises 16 acres of ground that still stir profound emotions in people who visit it. What comes from the planning may well be the most challenging urban-design project in history.

Because Goldberger has a deep insight and knowledge of architecture, he is able to tell this story in a convincing way. The first design for a memorial building was rejected for security reasons, so it had to be reconceived. The author treats the debates about whether the revised Freedom Tower represents the initial ambitions of those who were determined to properly commemorate the site and to restore the street life of Lower Manhattan.—Dennis Lythgoe

'The Physics of Superheroes'

By James Kakalios

Gotham Books, $26.

Movies depicting Spider-Man, Superman and Batman have remained popular over the years. This book by James Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota, is based on his interest in superheroes and how well they fit into the scientific world.

To get the attention of his college students, Kakalios used the comic-book characters to examine the plausibility of some of their feats. Obviously, he considered some of them to be ridiculous and others to be humorous.

For instance, in Kakalios' opinion, a superhero could plausibly pluck bullets from the air, and he might even swing from one building to another on a strand of web that had the proportional strength of a spider's web — but he would need Superman's stamina to live through the huge pressures of high-velocity accelerations and stops.—Dennis Lythgoe