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Title Page

Fiction

October 25, 1987|Gary Dretzka

HEADLINES by Graham Masterton (St. Martin's Press: $18.95; 468 pp.). Romeo and Juliet, Chicago style: "The Polish dance music wafted in through the window. The night was warm. Some things are beyond the grasp of ordinary men, and that evening Harry knew that Morgana Croft Tate was one of them."

It's 1949. Morgana Croft Tate is the daughter of newspaper tycoon Howard Croft Tate, liberal counterpart to the Chicago Tribune's Col. Robert McCormick; Harry Sharpe is a muckraking reporter on Tate's Chicago Star, which Morgana will inherit from her father; and "Headlines" is a treatment for a TV miniseries masquerading as a novel.

If television were to buy the idea, Part 1 of a three-day series could cover the events of Morgana's 21st birthday, which begins with a gala party and ends after she has scurried up a firefighter's ladder to rescue a young black girl from a tenement blaze--which, it turns out, was the work of Mr. Tate's mobster pal, Enzo Vespucci. Part 2 would find Morgana insinuating herself into the Star's operations by going over her dad's head to promote a series on slumlords and leading a manhunt for a vicious killer. In Part 3, she falls in love, and . . . oh, you can guess the rest. Conveniently, Masterton has added enough skin and violence to keep any network programmer happy.

Readers won't fare as well, however, as "Headlines"--a cross between "The Perils of Pauline" and "The Front Page"--features some of the most wooden dialogue and preposterous situations imaginable. Masterton would have had a much better novel if he had paid more attention to what his characters do and say, and less to who designed their clothes.

To be fair, Masterton does a nice job in presenting the excitement of a big-city newsroom and, for the most part, makes convincing use of Chicago as a backdrop for his story. He's done his homework here, but even Lake Michigan couldn't hold this whopper of a fish story.

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