The Author: Philip Kerr, once a wizard at cerebral crime fiction, now a movie-rights millionaire thanks to a trio of formula thrillers.

The Book: A Five Year Plan (Hutchinson, pounds 15.99) Thinking conman Dave Delano leaves the Miami slammer after doing five on a bum rap. He decides to set himself up for life with a heist involving transatlantic yacht transport, mountains of cocaine cash and Russian gangsteri. But Dave reckons without Kate, the sexy Fed on his trail, not to mention the mad Petersburg mobsters...

The Deal: Key player here is Nick Marston, dynamic young agent at A P Watt, who netted seven-figure sums for film rights to Kerr's smart-building nightmare Gridiron and his Himalayan spies-and-yetis romp Esau. Tom Cruise has already taken the bait for this one. The days when Kerr crafted cunning whodunits set in Grahame Greene-ish cities (A Philosophical Investigation, A German Requiem) now seem long ago.

The Goods: A Five Year Plan muscles in on the coke-and-jokes Miami scene so zippily patrolled by Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen. Hard-boiled dialogue crackles to and fro in the steamy air as the old-style US mafiosi square up to the nutty Russians. Kerr lavishes his usual dose of hi-tech data on the floating gin- (or rather powder-) palaces, and the plot streaks towards a seasick climax.

The Verdict: Delano's an engaging crook with echoes of Kerr's more ruminative heroes from the past. But a few allusions to Dostoyevsky or Hawking can't make up for the underpowered wisecracks or the half-finished mood of a screenplay-in-waiting that hangs over the entire project. The capi of Florida crime writing can sleep easily in their air-conditioned luxury duplexes.

The Alternative: Miami virtues

1/ Elmore Leonard: Gold Coast or La Brava A vision so cynical it could strip paint, and plenty of scintillating hard-edged dialogue.

2/ Carl Hiaasen: Stormy Weather or Strip Tease Spiced with more detailed satire than Leonard; his equal in scalding wit.

3/ Alexander Stuart: Life on Mars Fine essays on wild Floridan subcultures written by a sharp-eared British traveller.

4/ Cristna Garca: The Arguelles Sisters New novel that vividly juggles life in "Little Havana" and its Cuban original.

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