FICTION : FOUND IN THE STREET by Patricia Highsmith (The Atlantic Monthly Press: $16.95; 288 pp.).

"Found in the Street" is a complex character study of New Yorkers brought together by chance. Elsie is a vivid, young waitress with the magnetism and energy to break into the modeling world. Ralph Linderman, an atheist with a dog named God, is the aging security guard who becomes obsessed with protecting Elsie's innocence. And Jack Sutherland is a wealthy, aspiring artist with a mostly happy family life. He has the fortune--or misfortune--to have his wallet returned by Linderman with all $263, as well as credit cards and photographs, still intact.

Written by a longtime American exile, this accomplished and engrossing novel captures the taste and texture of life in Manhattan. From the exhilaration of discovering a previously overlooked Greek take-out restaurant to the feel of jogging through the empty, early-morning streets, "You could never tell what might happen in New York!"

This 19th novel goes far beyond the bounds of the "mystery," a genre label that has stuck to Highsmith's work since her first, "Strangers on a Train," in 1950. It is time she reached a wider audience.

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