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Bloody Sunday

RAISING THE DEAD by Roger L. Simon (Villard: $1595;227pp.)

September 04, 1988|CHARLES CHAMPLIN

Ever since his debut in "The Big Fix," Roger L. Simon's Moses Wine has been an entertaining tour guide through Southern California social history. Initially a '60s liberal in search of his lost illusions, Wine seems now to be an Undecided, a variant private eye whose wisecracking conceals--fails to conceal--a sensitive man with only a fairness doctrine for a credo.

In Raising the Dead, Wine, nominally Jewish, is retained by an Arab organization to prove it had nothing to do with a terrorist bombing. Wine heads for Israel, where most of the story takes place and where a young member of a militant Jewish group in Los Angeles has gone underground.

The links to headline realities are numerous. Simon proves as familiar with Israel as with the bigotry-strewn alleys of Los Angeles. Wine's adventure is suspenseful, eventful and economically told. But the denouement is tantalizingly elusive, as if when theocracies clash, there are higher forces at work that even a very good private eye cannot detect. It is a mystery more provocative than most.

WILDTRACK by Bernard Cornwell (G.W. Putnam's Sons: $17.95; 320pp.) The summer has produced two excellent thrillers set under full sail: Tony Gibb's "Dead Run" a few weeks ago and now Wildtrack by Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell's settings are England and the North Atlantic, his protagonist a sea-lover Nicholas Sandman who has been badly wounded in the battle of the Falklands and is still barely able to navigate.

He comes home to a Channel port to find that not much is left of his beloved ketch except the keel. Between them, his rotten ex-wife and a smarmy TV personality with dreams of winning an ocean race have stripped the boat. The TV man's murderous South African aide beats Sandman nearly to death.

The final confrontation is a thrilling ketch-as-ketch-can battle in mid-ocean. Like Gibbs, Cornwell clearly knows and loves sailing. The landlubber can only read " I hanked on the jib's head, ran its tack along the bowsprit with the traveler, then hoisted away," and say hell, yes, that's what I'd have done, too. You can taste the salt air.

Kinky Friedman, the most improbable but successful Western singer this side of George Burns, has subsequently turned mystery novelist, operating from a base in Greenwich Village, far from Texas where he won fame in rock-and-ride music.

WHEN THE CAT'S AWAY by Kinky Friedman (Beech Tree: $16.95; 201pp.) In his third book, When the Cat's Away, Friedman is as usual his own protagonist, a singer with a kind of accidental sideline in murder-solving. Also as usual, the plot is thickened with his real-life pals, some in more than walk-on roles. The present caper commences with one of the pals, Jane Meara, a book editor and occasional reviewer for this newspaper, complaining that her prize cat has disappeared during the big cat show at the Garden.

The plot offers strong whiffs of red herring and a side dish of cocaine wars. Friedman writes with an energetic high foolishness that makes the thinness of the plot charmingly irrelevant. "There is a time to live and a time to die and a time to stop listening to albums by the Byrds," he says typically, in a moment of stress.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR by Larry Beinhart (William Morrow: $18.95; 372pp.) Two years ago, Larry Beinhart's "No One Rides for Free" won an Edgar as best first mystery. You Get What You Pay For could win honors as best second mystery. Beinhart's uncommon story has his man, a private investigator named Tony Cassella, born in the first book trying to expose the shady business past of a quite fictitious attorney-general named Randolph Gunderson in the first Reagan Administration. The year is 1984, and Beinhart says, all innocence, that it is "cumbersome" to invent, for example, an imaginary President named Donald Doogan.

Doogan is thus Reagan, and there are press conference quotes from him plus, in an epilogue, news snippets about Ed Meese, although the book was written before Meese's resignation. Any resemblance to persons living or dead, etc. Sure.

Echoes of the daily press aside, "You Get What You Pay For" is a well-populated, well-detailed and very well-written novel of detection and political skulduggery.

MANNEQUIN by Robert Byrne (Atheneum: $16.95; 288pp.) Robert Byrne's Mannequin is a straight thriller, notable for the relentless, cross-cutting pace of the narrative and the knowledgeable detailing which gives larger-than-life events a credibility you almost wish they didn't have.

A man (a good man, we sense) is fleeing an industrial complex in a stolen Rolls. Our hero? No; he's pursued and bumped off. The question is, Who he and Why dead? Insecticides are being invented and tested at the complex, and one has chemical warfare capabilities, useful in the Iran-Iraq war. The stuff is unstable, deadly and being shipped, quite illicitly, on a mystery train some terrorists want to blow up.

The turf is Nevada-California, and Byrne knows his railroading to the last switch. The figures in sight are vivid if not deep, but story is all and it roars ahead.

GOODBYE L.A. by Murray Sinclair (Black Lizard: $15.95; 204pp.) The adventurous Black Lizard press in Berkeley has been reprinting crime classics in paper and publishing a few originals, notably Murray Sinclair's series about a Los Angeles screenwriter-sleuth named Ben Crandel, first observed writing porn films to keep himself fed.

In the third and latest in the series, Goodbye L.A., Crandel, doing better as a writer, gets involved with his 15-year-old ward's rock group, Claustrophobic, with the disappearance of a woman reporter and with some neo-Nazis using rock as a front. While accurate accounts of the gritty underside of Los Angeles are nothing new, Sinclair looks with a calm eye and doesn't force his effects. He's a welcome new voice.

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