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IN BRIEF

Fiction

January 20, 1991|Michael Harris

THE NIGHT MAYOR by Kim Newman (Carroll & Graf: $17.95; 186 pp.) . In the 21st Century, God is a giant computer, only tenuously restrained by human authority ("the Gunmint"). People don't watch movies ("flatties") any more; instead, they plug into computer-generated "Dreams" that give them whole imaginary universes to play in. This poses a problem for officials at the prison where archcriminal Truro Daine is confined. Somehow Daine has wired his Dream into the God-computer itself. Not only is he Night Mayor, in total control of the shadowy urban world he has reconstructed from 1940s films noirs ; he threatens to take over the real world as well.

Two agents, disguised as a private eye and a femme fatale, are sent to combat Daine on his own black-and-white turf: a city where it's always 2:30 a.m. and raining, where Nat King Cole sings in a jazz club as Edward G. Robinson strangles a girl in a tenement window, where Brian Donlevy rakes in City Hall graft, Lee Marvin and Dan Duryea beat up inquisitive gumshoes, Thelma Ritter slings hash in a diner and Gloria Grahame purrs: "There are ways night people have a better time."

Kim Newman, who has written fantasy stories and edited a book on "Nightmare Movies," blends those interests in his first novel. It's not quite a serious novel--when both good guys and bad guys have essentially unlimited powers, picking the winners is arbitrary--but the plotting is deft, the action fast, the tone suitably hard-boiled. Newman has an eye for description and an ear for past and future slang. The science-fiction parts of "Night Mayor" are ingenious. The movie stuff is a labor of love.

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