Corny internal monologues drag down this action-packed third novel by Gilstrap (Nathan's Run; At All Costs), featuring an ill-starred childless couple and a hapless young mom caught between the cops and the bad guys. Still grieving over the recent stillbirth of their first child, a son they named Steven, Susan and Bobby Martin are on a camping trip in the mountains of West Virginia to mark their fifth wedding anniversary when they encounter a frightened little boy and a suspicious man claiming to be his father. After the stranger pulls a gun, Bobby kills him in the ensuing struggle. Finding police ID on the corpse and fearing the consequences of having killed a cop, the Martins take the boy and flee. Having suffered several miscarriages before the stillbirth, Susan believes that God intends the boy to replace Steven. Meanwhile, in nearby Pittsburgh, down-on-her-luck April Simpson discovers that a local drug dealer has kidnapped her two-year-old son, Justin, to hold as a hostage until he can collect a debt from her ne'er-do-well husband. Desperate for her child's safety, April threatens a mob boss with blackmail and is arrested while attempting armed robbery of a department store. Elsewhere, on a rundown farm, the brother of the man Bobby killed is anguishing over not having come to his sibling's rescue. The hero-protagonist (of sorts) who connects all three stories is aging FBI agent Russell Coates, himself embroiled in an old bull/young bull struggle for king of the hill. Although underdeveloped characters, hokey escapes and rescues replete with pulp romance epiphanies give the thriller a comic opera ring, its swift forward motion will speed readers past its flaws. Agent, Molly Friedrich. 7-city author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.