YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


A Spy Thriller, Money Games and Assorted Celebrities

February 14, 1988|CHARLES CHAMPLIN

The international collaboration of Pierre Salinger, who evidently does most of the plotting in Paris, and Leonard Gross, who does the bulk of the writing in California, has produced a second thriller featuring Andre Kohl. Kohl, who like Salinger is a Paris-based American television correspondent, made his debut in "The Dossier," and the events in Mortal Games flow from it.

Someone attempts to assassinate Kohl at a farewell dinner in his honor at the Ritz; he has decided to turn in his trenchcoat. Later, on a tropical island, the assassins try again and nearly succeed, grievously wounding Kohl and his new bride, whose father runs the CIA.

It is the interesting if farfetched conceit of the story that Kohl, given a new face, voice, body, manner and life history, is hired to find his own assassins and in the process re-woos the wife who is about to bear their child. Even his bride has been led to believe he is dead; only the villains know better and stalk the new man Kohl has become.

The back plot--who hired whom to do what and why--is suitably knotty, ultimately involving extremists on both sides of the Iron Curtain. At times, the authors attempt to lay a Le Carre seriousness on some quite post-Bondish goings-on. But the local colorings in Paris and elsewhere are authentic (the authors are both veteran reporters), and thrillers seldom feature such an affecting love story.

A tour de force is like jazz; you may not be able to define it but you recognize it when you meet it. Thomas Perry's Island is indisputably a tour de force, an antic, unconventional, unpredictable, witty and surprising tale of a husband-and-wife team of con persons who find a shallow offshore shoal in the Caribbean and pour enough junk on it to create an artificial island. They give it nationhood and make it a haven for tax dodgers, money launderers and other sly operatives from the world over.

Harry and Emma are grand company, and it is impossible not to root for their devilish enterprises. Those who admire the riotously imaginative works of Peter Dickinson and Richard Condon will feel right at home with Perry's artful dazzler.

Earl W. Emerson is a lieutenant in the Seattle Fire Department and draws on what he knows best to make a high-combustion thriller in Black Hearts and Slow Dancing. His hero is a fireman in a backwater Washington town, recovering from emotional storms elsewhere. He is talked into being sheriff temporarily and gets involved in a brutal murder case with links to the Seattle Fire Department, of all institutions.

Emerson's style is muscular and active. There's a melodramatic rooftop finish, and it's always a pleasure to read an author who is indubitably authoritative.

Mysteries strewn with real celebrities, the living and the dead, appear to be a trend, not invariably a happy one and not my cup of cocoa, I've discovered. But Elliott Roosevelt's tales starring his mother Eleanor Roosevelt as an inadvertent sleuth are written with such affection as well as such ingenuity that they are an exception to prove a rule.

Murder at the Palace, the fifth in the series, finds Mrs. R. on a wartime visit to London, staying temporarily at Buckingham Palace. (That much is true history.) In one of the other apartments a singularly unpleasant English chap who is one of the king's equerries is done to death while a half-dozen suspects await him in the drawing room. One of the suspects is the head of Scotland Yard, but Mrs. R. knows better and goes swiftly to the heart of what is really a locked-room mystery.

Novelist William Harrington is thanked for "invaluable assistance" to the author. Whoever finally put pen to paper has achieved a warmly satisfying story.

Helen Hayes is credited as co-author of Where the Truth Lies, with Thomas Chastain presumably functioning as the writer who took notes and created the story. It involves the stabbing of an unadmired producer, on stage during the finale of the Academy Awards and in full view of the world. The central figure is a New York stage actress named Halcie Harper, who occasionally does films in Hollywood and who can obviously use Miss Hayes' towels.

There are occasional asides that sound as if Miss Hayes might well have said them. But these are not quite enough to sustain a rather tritely mechanical plot, which is not helped by the overtones of exploitation.

Raymond Chandler, one of the definers of the private eye genre, becomes the detective in Gaylord Larsen's A Paramount Kill. Unfortunately, the characterization centers on the reports of Chandler's tormented and alcoholic last years. Billy Wilder, William Dozier and other real figures from the studio's past are in view, not overly beguiling either. The plot has echoes of "Chinatown," but nothing can overcome the unpleasant feeling that what we have here is a posthumous invasion of Chandler's privacy, at no real gain.

Los Angeles Times Articles