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Fletch, Too by Gregory McDonald (Warner Books: $15.95 249 pp.)

October 19, 1986|Don G. Campbell | Campbell is an author and Times staff writer

Of course. Having barely made his deadline, shaved hurriedly in the newspaper's restroom, and shown up 40 minutes late for his own wedding in blue jeans--what else would a devil-may-care, madcap reporter do for an encore?

Well, if his name is Irwin Maurice Fletcher, what else would he do but scrap his Colorado honeymoon plans right after the marriage ceremony and whisk his new, Job-patient bride off to tropical Nairobi replete in thermal clothing and with well-waxed skis trailing behind?

If, in the feminist 1980s, you can buy the idea of any young bride putting up with this sort of macho nonsense without wrapping those glossy skis around her partner's neck, you've got in full measure the suspension of disbelief that Gregory McDonald's "Fletch, Too," requires. Nay, demands.

This is the 10th and, novelist McDonald assures us, the last in the long-running "Fletch" series. And it is a series death, perhaps, whose time has, indeed, come.

It isn't that Fletch, himself, doesn't remain as likable as ever ("irrepressible" is the adjective of common coinage, although "bubble-headed" comes increasingly to mind), but the one-liners are seeming more contrived, and McDonald's staccato delivery (shame on any sentence of dialogue longer than five words), is beginning to sound more and more like an old Abbott and Costello routine.

Through what premise do we justify author McDonald's obviously high old time romping around the green hills of Africa? By having Fletch receive a wedding present from his long-presumed-dead father--a letter inviting him to a father-son reunion in Nairobi and containing airline tickets, hotel reservations and money for him and his new bride. So, what's a boy and his heel-dragging wife to do once the obvious (cash in the tickets) has been rejected?

Not only does Fletch witness a murder in the Nairobi airport restroom, but dear old Dad--a bush pilot presumably killed in a crash coincidental with his son's birth--proves maddeningly elusive. First, he's a no-show at the airport for Fletch and his bride's arrival. Then, when reliable reports have old Dad in the local lock-up, he turns out to be "not receiving" visitors.

All is not lost, however, as the newlyweds are taken under the wing of an old barn-storming pilot friend of Fletch's father who is obsessed with finding the site of a buried Roman city where one has never been suspected. What better rationale for a rather prolonged nature hike/societal study of East Africa spiced with occasional dashes of romance?

McDonald's tongue-in-cheek treatment of his impulsive, bumbling (oh, all right, irrepressible) Fletch is as deft as ever, and the mystery of both the murder in the airport and the introduction-shy father are neatly resolved in a couple of neat plot twists. So, what more could a dedicated Fletch fan want?

In the retirement of his baggy-pants, newspaper reporter-turned-klutz hero at this stage of his career, however, McDonald, one thinks, may be doing a wise thing in quitting while he's ahead of the game.

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