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A Thriller Short on Thrills : THE HAILING SIGN by Steven Fink (St. Martin's Press: $19.95; 403 pp.)

January 24, 1988|Michael HarrisBD Harris is a Times copy editor.

Steven Fink, a Los Angeles consultant and the author of "Crisis Management: Planning for the Inevitable," has written his first novel about--what else?--a crisis: the seizure of thS. Embassy in Tehran.

On TV, one of the hostages flashes the Hailing Sign, a call for help to the Brotherhood of the Craft, an ancient secret society with members in every nation. Chosen for the rescue attempt is Alexander Mycroft, a vodka-soaked former Army intelligence officer who has parachuted into POW camps in Vietnam. Opposing him are the Iranians, the Palestine Liberation Organization, a seductive woman bent on personal revenge--and his own dithering government.

A quick study, Fink has mastered the basics of the thriller: fast pace, abrupt cuts, major events left hanging, casual details that prove to be major, double-crosses, an aura of high tech. He has fun basing his mystical Brotherhood on the builders of Solomon's Temple and elaborating its rituals. He even sets up a sequel.

Beyond the basics, however, Fink doesn't aspire. His prose will remind no one of Graham Greene, and his characters (including a "notorious, sadistic" Chinese interrogator and a PLO agent with body odor) are standard issue. So are his ideas. An Israeli mouthpiece says the United States should have struck to free the hostages "within days," regardless of casualties, so as not to be laughed at. Fink seems to have forgotten, but not all readers will, that Entebbe wasn't Israel's only hostage experience: There was also Munich. And they may have laughed at Jimmy Carter, but his way did somehow get the captives released. On balance, Fink's view of crisis management is James Bond's, minus wit: Keep your cool, and know how to use an Uzi.

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