Solomon Jones author of The Bridge: A Novel ($23.95, St.Martin's)

Jones returns to the oppressive, crack-addicted world of the Philadelphia underclass of his powerful debut, Pipe Dream (2001), with this ambitious story. In 1990, a nine year-old girl, Kenya Brown, disappears from a grim housing project known as "the Bridge," and two African-American detectives-Kevin Lynch, who grew up in the Bridge, and Roxanne Wilson, a single mother-lead the police search. Also hunting for Kenya are her irresponsible mother Daneen, a recovering crack addict and Lynch's childhood friend; Daneen's aunt Judy, a crack dealer with whom Kenya lived; and Daneen's feckless brother Darnell. The culprit seems to be Judy's lover and business partner, drug distributor Sonny Williams, a suspected child abuser. As the search for him overshadows that for the missing Kenya, Sonny improvises to avoid capture, causing havoc throughout the city, with political repercussions. The guilty party comes as a surprise, but the real villain in this complex tale is society. Each character's story reveals how the desperate poverty and hopelessness of to life lead to drugs, teenage pregnancy and violent personal relationships. Jones also shows the superhuman task of the few people, usually women, who fight against the odds to ensure that their children escape from the Bridge. Jones, who grew up in the Philadelphia projects and knows his subject well, is a talent to watch.

Solomon Jones is a senior contributing editor for Philadelphia Weekly and the author of Pipe Dream. he is a native of Philadelphia, where he lives with his family.