Tom Cruise’s production company completed its first major book option at Paramount Tuesday on Evan Hunter’s next novel, “Criminal Conversation,” to be published in the spring by Warner Books.

In a departure from the white-hat roles with which he’s most often associated , Cruise optioned the book so he can play the villain, sources said.

Brokered between Cruise’s partner, Paula Wagner, and Hunter’s agents, Amy Schiffman and Robert Gottlieb of the William Morris Agency, the option went for a high five figures against a high six figures if the film gets made.

“Criminal Conversation” focuses on an assistant district attorney’s attempt to bring down a mob boss. Though Cruise mightseem better suited to play the lawyer — as he has in “The Firm” and “A Few Good Men”– sources said he’ll play the mobster. Paramount will put a writer on the project shortly.

Hunter, whose first novel was “The Blackboard Jungle” and who also wrote the script for Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” hasn’t written a book under his own name for years. He has written under the pseudonym Ed McBain on the Matthew Hope mystery series and the 87th Precinct police procedural novels.

Cruise and Wagner have become very active on the Par lot. Among other development projects for their CW Prods., they’re trying to work the TV series “Mission: Impossible” into a Cruise vehicle. He just began production of “Interview With the Vampire” at Warner Bros.

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