NEWSDAY

THE HUNDRED PERCENT SQUAD, by E. W. Count. Warner, 324 pp
BIG TIME, by Marcel Montecino. Morrow
RULES OF THE ROAD, by Lucian K. Truscott IV. Carroll & Graf

By David Finkle

THE POINT in the history of literature where the quest for the Holy Grail as a prominent theme found its enduring variation in the chase story could probably be fixed exactly at the moment when the novel shifted from elite study to popular entertainment. Since whenever that was, stories of good men chasing evil men and evil men chasing good – often while both are being chased by a potent third force – have become staple fare in the publishing marketplace.

Of three being published in the next weeks the race is without question to newspaper journalist E. W. Count’s “The Hundred Percent Squad,” based on much of what Count picked up while spending a year riding around with the police from her local Manhattan precinct. “The Hundred Percent Squad” is the story of a tug-of-war over drugs and people waged by Lieutenant Detective Andy Flynn and Ecuadorian drug big-wig Dennis Kelly (“Irish”) Viera -with a street kid known as Salsa serving as the rope. But it is also a book with a social conscience.

The author wants to – and does – make points about the change from bad to much worse in the 1985 New York City climate when crack became a new problem. She raps the New York ballet community on the knuckles for keeping mum on widespread drug use and she looks at what can happen to people who abuse substances and to those who seek recovery.

Divorced Andy Flynn is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and even attends a meeting during the course of his wrangling with both Viera and Lauren Daniels, a girlfriend strategically working, as it turns out, in city planning. Of that meeting, Count writes: “Flynn had attended plenty of AA meetings and plenty of inspiring ones but none compared to this . . . He thought about his own sobriety anniversary in April. About Father Dunne’s ‘goon squad’ whisking him upstate to ‘The Farm’ eight years ago, when, as the First Step says, his life had become unmanageable.”

For all her working good-and-evil symbols for what they’re worth and skillfully pressing contemporary urban issues. Count’s main achievement is the way she’s set up the suspense. To be cited as having solved 100 percent of its cases for any given year, a precinct has to log all collars by midnight New Year’s Eve. It doesn’t take long to realize that Count – whose crime saga basically begins on March 15, 1985 – is going to use the rest of the year up almost entirely before either Flynn or Viera gets his man, and Lauren gets hers.

It would be unfair to reveal exactly how the author brings everything to a close, but maybe fair enough to mention as an additional come-on that the Waldorf-Astoria and the lighted ball in Times Square Figure in the clever denouement.