Paperback shelves these days are beginning to read like some sort of offbeat litany, with Madonna Red, by James Caroll (Bantam, $1.95) and Immaculate Deception, by Suzanne Arms (Bantam, $2.50) jostling one another for attention. Outside of the fact that their titles may make some readers start humming in Gregorian chant and remembering long-dissipated clouds of incense drifting down dim aisles, the books have nothing in common.

Maddonna Red is a suspense novel about a terrorist plotting an assassination in Washington's own St. Matthew's Cathedral - gripping, suspenseful, and with some curious theological and symbolic overtones for readers tuned in to that spectrum.

The Madonna Complex is a large novel with an unbeatable triple-threat theme: money, power and sexual obsession. It is rather well written, in case anyone cares.

Immaculate Deception has nothing to do with one of Rome's more controverted teachings; it is a treatise on childbirth, with a vigorous (and, on the whole, well-grounded) attack on the way men - doctors in particular and those who generate and perpetuate myths on the subject in general - have messed it up. Childbirth is usually an easy, normal process and most of the time it would be painless except that women have been taught it should hurt, says author Arms.She advocates use of midwives.

To all of the all of the above, amen.