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NONFICTION

How to Beat a Dead Story : THE RUN OF HIS LIFE: The People v. O.J. Simpson. By Jeffrey Toobin (Random House: $24, 447 pp.)

September 08, 1996|Bella Stumbo | Bella Stumbo is the author of "Until the Twelfth of Never: The Deadly Divorce of Dan and Betty Broderick" (Pocket Books, 1993)

It's been a rough summer for O.J. junkies like myself, and not only because of this new judge, who seems hellbent on depriving us of any fresh goodies from the upcoming Simpson civil trial.

In my opinion, an even more ominous sign that our seemingly endless supply of Simpson news, gossip and garbage may be about to dry up came last month, when Joe McGinniss cut us off. McGinniss, as you may know, is the best-selling author who has been holed up for nearly two years--with a reported publisher's advance of $1.75 million--supposedly writing what many of us eagerly expected to be the Definitive Simpson Book, filled with new juicy, behind-the-scenes details and brilliant analysis.

Instead, McGinniss suddenly emerged, dripping with disgust (and, to his credit, even looking halfway sick), to declare that he would rather return the money than waste another single hour of his life dwelling in the sordid Simpson sewers. Worse yet, in a tone of terrible certainty, McGinniss went on to tell a sputtering Larry King on CNN that, in his view, there was absolutely nothing new under the sun left for a writer to say.

And now, in a third blow hard on the heels of the McGinniss heartbreak--and with only a handful of "big books" remaining to top out the 30-plus already on our bookshelves--here comes Jeffrey Toobin's frustrating 480-page admission that, basically, McGinniss was right: In the matter of O.J., there is apparently precious little left to say.

Not that Toobin isn't a fine reporter and a good, clear writer. He is both and, to be sure, he has done a masterful job of culling, condensing and packaging the highlights of the Simpson saga from court transcripts and media reports. Even so, what he has created is, at best, a first-rate reference book for future generations--not ours. Unless you have been in a coma for the last two years, unless you don't know your Fungs from your Fuhrmans, this book is absolutely 100% no fun.

That didn't stop me from reading it, of course, cover to cover. In fact, that's part of the ultimate aggravation: Toobin, an attorney and writer for the New Yorker, has the storytelling skills to lure you through his entire book before you realize, on the last page, that you've been had--that, no, you will not eventually stumble upon something new nor find any bit of original analysis or biting wit to reward your patience.

In the end, Toobin's themes are the same worn wisdoms we've heard from the pundits for months, i.e., Simpson is guilty; nearly all of the attorneys (Simpson defense lawyer Robert Shapiro, in particular) were despicable, cynical, unprincipled, adolescent, vain egomaniacs; Simpson trial Judge Lance Ito was star-struck; and the verdict was racially preordained.

As for fresh material (at least for me), I made a list. It turned out to be very short indeed and includes such news nuggets as these:

* When an LAPD dog trainer "interviewed" Nicole Brown Simpson's Akita, he found it to be an emotional pussycat, lacking "instincts or courage to protect his territory, owner or himself."

* During the trial, Larry King simultaneously dated Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti's press secretary and the defense team's jury consultant.

* Prosecutor Marcia Clark spent about $40,000 on dental work (God knows on what, and Toobin doesn't tell us).

* In his supposed suicide note, O.J. drew a happy face inside the "O" of his signature.

* All four Brown sisters had breast implants.

Otherwise, however well-written, this book is mainly page after tiresome page of the well-known: defense attorney F. Lee Bailey grilling Det. Mark Fuhrman, defense attorney Barry Scheck chewing on police criminalist Dennis Fung, Clark hissing at Simpson house guest Kato Kaelin, an excruciatingly long section on jury selection and even 10 pages on the most watched freeway chase in history. Poor Toobin even got scooped in revealing the anonymous source for his own controversial July 1994 New Yorker piece, which broke the news that the defense planned to blame it all on Fuhrman, because Shapiro beat him to the punch by confessing all in his own book a few months back.

And, finally, this book is oddly devoid of real people talking outside the court setting. Example: In all those pages, Toobin gives us just one paragraph of an extemporaneous Clark (griping about Ito in the hallway). Other trial personalities are never depicted in close-up at all, beyond thumbnail sketches drawn mostly from the files.

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