SO SMALL A CARNIVAL by John William Corrington and Joyce H. Corrington (Viking: $15.95; 192 pp.). Any book that has the good sense to take advantage of the city of New Orleans--with its oddly symbiotic mixture of whimsy, decadence and humidity--can't be all bad. And this new mystery has a number of appealing elements. It's a fast-paced yarn that begins with a mass murder in a Crescent City tavern and ends in a French Quarter courtyard, the killer face down in the fallen magnolias. Along the way, the bones of the Kingfish, Huey Long, get rolled a bit. And several grand old Southern families are taken down a few pegs.
What makes all this less entertaining than it should be is the author's apparent desire to transcend the thriller category. The title is a tip-off. It's source, we are informed, is that old phrase-maker Nietzsche, as cited by Norman Mailer in his "The Presidential Papers." That's one heck of a triple play--from Nietzsche to Mailer to Wes Colvin, the Corringtons' narrator and hero, a cynical-but-sophomoric newspaper reporter who covers the police beat.
Colvin shines at solving crime but is a smug dud at philosophizing. And his authors should have used quotation marks rather than long dashes to indicate conversation. I realize that quotes are so, well, conventional, but with a mystery novel a reader has enough to think about without having to sleuth out the dialogue.