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Vulnerable young blacks

The List, by Chet Dettlinger with Jeff Prugh. Atlanta: Philmay Enterprises Inc. 518 pp. $14.95. Now and then a book opens a window on a part of American life that we know little about. This is one of those books. The window is on the street life of young blacks in Atlanta, between 1979 and 198l, when a series of murders of black youngsters there shocked the nation.

Wayne Williams, himself a young black, was convicted of two of the murders. Authorities then said most of the other killings were the work of Williams, although he was not tried for them.

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Dettlinger was a consultant on the case for the Atlanta police. Prugh is a former Atlanta bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. Their book's main contention is that the killings of young blacks did not end with the arrest of Williams. They criticize the police for not including in the case all blacks killed during that period. They also blame the media for losing interest in the case.

Atlanta prosecutors maintain that those murders that fit a pattern were included. Yes, some killings continued after the conviction, they admit, but not in the same pattern. Frequently Dettlinger tries to impress the reader with his insights. The boasting becomes tedious.

Nonetheless, the reader can get rare glimpses of the vulnerability of some young blacks who spend hour upon hour on the streets. It is a world of youth desperate to be somebody, to earn money, to break out of poverty. And for some it is a world of violence. Homocide is the No. 1 cause of death nationally among blacks 15 to 24.

Robert M. Press is a Monitor writer based in Atlanta.

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