Longshot. Dick Francis. Putnam.320 pages. $19.95. Who...


October 07, 1990|By ABBY KARP The Road to Memphis. Mildred Taylor. Dial. 290 pages. $14.95.

Longshot. Dick Francis. Putnam.

320 pages. $19.95. Who wouldn't want a guy like John Kendall?

The hero of Dick Francis' newest mystery is just the kind of modest, decent bloke we've learned to love in the author's novels. In this story, Kendall goes farther into the realm of New Manhood: Not only does he save lives, but he writes books, cooks dinner for strangers, plays surrogate parent to a &r motherless teen-ager and even catches a pregnant woman when she faints while astride a horse.

All this, and he solves the mystery of who killed a stablehand. Kendall has been hired to write the biography of a successful horse trainer. As he becomes part of the trainer's clan, he finds himself wondering which of his new-found companions murdered a young woman found nude in the woods with a picture of her horse.

As has been the case in recent Francis mysteries, the characters are at least as interesting as the plot; one feels the writer perhaps should just go ahead and write a novel sans corpses. But the ending is a pretty good surprise and the requisite bizarre acts of violence are exciting as always. In her Newbery Medal acceptance speech for "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry," Mildred Taylor said that today's children must know about the experiences of earlier generations to appreciate and understand what has been accomplished in race relations and civil rights. Ms. Taylor, drawing upon her own family and the black history not learned in schools, writes a compelling story about young black men and women growing up in rural Mississippi in the 1930s.

In the fourth and final book in Ms. Taylor's series about the Logan family, Cassie, the 17-year-old daughter, must travel to Jackson, Miss., to attend the closest black high school. Her brother, Stacy, 19, and his friends are working hard in a Jackson factory.

It is in the city that Cassie's first encounter with a man are explored. It is back home that violence once again shatters all their lives. A young black man is harassed and humiliated. He has experienced this many times before, but this time he happens to be changing a tire and is holding a crowbar; losing his temper, he slashes back. Stacy, Cassie and all their friends, including the one "different" white boy, Jeremy Sims, become

involved in the consequences of this violence.


Jane Fonda. Bill Davidson. Dutton.

294 pages. $18.95.

Those who love Jane Fonda see her as the daughter of admired Henry Fonda. They admire her resilience, "like a phoenix who keeps rising from the ashes," according to Robert Redford. Some women applaud Ms. Fonda because she fights back, and relate to her roles -- sympathetic, crusading, tough, compassionate. Those who hate her, says Bill Davidson, "have never forgiven her for her political transgressions. . . . She is still too activist and at the very least too liberal. . . . She was destroying their dreams."

Throughout it all, her aerobic videos and books have been best sellers and have netted her $75 million. She is in her early 50s now, but the keywords that explain her are still "courage, guts, mettle, steel, moxie. . . . She should have died of embarrassment at least a half dozen times in her life [but] she bounced back more of a heroine than ever."


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