IN R. B. DOMINIC'S The Attending Physician (Harper & Row, $8.95), a congressional subcommittee is holding hearings on Medicaid abuses in Ohio congressman Ben Safford's home district. Safford isn't too happy with the testimony -- one of his constituents has billed the same woman for an abortion after collecting fees for three earlier hysterectomies. Then a lawyer representing the complainant in a malpractice suit is found shot to death in his office.
The American Medical Association will not like this view of greedy doctors ripping off the government to buy yachts, private planes, furs for their wives and country club memberships. But everyone else will be delighted with Safford's investigations: he's an honest political realist who works hard for his constituents and his principles.
The Safford series is created by the two women who also collaborate on those civilized Wall Street mysteries under the Ema Lathen byline. In both, the stories are laced with witty observation and the detection, though solid, is secondary to the social commentary. Safford's reappearance after an absence of several years is welcome. He has my vote.
After reading The Shadow of the Palms (Houghton Mifflin, $8.95), I wish that I hadn't missed Janice Law's earlier mysteries (The Big Payoff, Gemini Trip and Under Orion) . Her heroine, Anna Peters, is a feisty and engaging private detective who isn't trying to out-macho her male colleagues. Anna's specialty is white-collor crime and industrial espionage, and she does her job well from her Washington office. Here, the plot begins when her old mentor, worried about his nephew, summons her to Florida. At first, it appears an innocent case of a young man indulging luxurious tastes that he can't afford. But Anna finds that the nephew is linked to Vlad Sebastian, a wealthy art collector with a shady background, currently being investigated by John Hillary, her reporter friend and former lover. Hillard gallantly bears the brunt of the story's machete knives and bullets, but Anna has to escape from a burning shack.
Law is a good writer with a shrewd eye for character and scene amid the fast-paced action. Anna wonders whether her former boss would understand "that one might run to the edge of ruin for beautiful things." He may not but she does.
Television's Barney Miller would feel quite at home amid the antic goings-on at Hong Kong's Yellowthread Street Police Station. In Skulduggery (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $8.95), harried Chief Inspector Feiffer and his motley crew have to cope with a 20-year-old skeleton found floating on a raft along with 10 sweet potatoes, a dead fish and a set of false teeth. If that isn't enough, there also are the deaf and dumb robbers and the mugger who disappears between floors on the elevator.
William Marshall's fifth Yellowthread Street sit-com mystery is every bit as funny as its sprightly predecessors, and this time Feiffer has a chance to display some wily detection as he tries to identify the skelton after dental records show that it belongs to a man proved quite alive by other evidence. Some of the best moments come when the Inspector has to deal with a Marxist farm leader to get permission to question the man who dug up the skeleton. It's one of the tops in the series. q
Professor Peter Shandy and the Balaclava Agricultural College, introduced in Charlotte MacLeod's delightful Rest You Merry a year ago, return in The Luck Runs Out (Doubleday Crime Club, $7.95). This time Belinda, the college's prize and highly pregnant sow is pignapped; a nearby silvercrafter's workshop is robbed, and a sweet old woman farrier (blacksmith) is murdered after attending a dinner party given by Proffessor Shandy and his new wife, Helen, who met in the earlier book.
There is always a danger to sequels, when there can be none of the first-blush glow of discovery. In The Luck Runs Out , both the characters and plot show signs of strain. But then MacLeod is a witty, literate writer and well worth the risk of a slight letdown.
In A Parcel of Their Fortunes (Doubleday Crime Club, $7.95), Barbara Ninde Byfield sends photojournalist Helen Bullock off to Morocco without her companion in love and detection, theReverend Simon Bede, a clergyman who is decidedly non-venerable. In Marrakesh, where she answers an old friend's urgent summons, Helen meets a very proper and very rich English lord, a lively Peace Corps volunteer, an ambitious fashion designer and a handsome, shrewd Moroccan businessman-politician.
Byfield is so fascinated by the Moroccan scene that she almost forgets her mystery for travelogue. But Simon appears at the end to help solve two murders, and there are lively characters and conversation to spice the travels.
Edith Pinero Green's eccentric sleuth, Dearborn V. Pinch, finds a corpse outside a New York funeral parlor and follows the murderer's trail to a Florida resort in Sneaks (Dutton, $9.95). Pinch, a wealthy, irascible septuagenarian with an eye for the ladies, again gets unwelcome help from his son Benjamin, the basketball star, in both his sleuthing and love entanglements. Dearborn can be an entertaining old dear, but Green does have a heavy hand with whimsy and loves talk. Both author and character can try your patience at times.
The best part of David Snell's Lights, Camera . . . Murder (St. Martin's, $10.95) is the behind-the-camera look at filmmaking with directors, actors, cameramen, and writers bickering and working to produce a moment of magic on the screen. The high point in hero Osgood Bass' axting career had previously been when he was devoured by piranhas invading New York Harbor in a horror movie starring Dustin Hoffman; now he has landed a role in a new film with Selena Carpenter, Hollywood's current leading lady. But aside from the fascinating productin details, Snell's story is ugly, with a denouement that is both vulgarly tasteless and unbelievable. The likable Osgood deserves a better script.