Jurassic Park.Michael Crichton.Knopf.228 pages. $19.95...


November 25, 1990|By GERRI KOBREN In a Child's Name: the Legacy of a Mother's Murder. Peter Maas. Simon & Schuster. 378 pages. $19.95.

Jurassic Park.

Michael Crichton.


228 pages. $19.95. Accepting the basic premise is easier than it might seem: An eccentric industrialist has engaged a brilliant geneticist, an unconventional mathematician, a computer wizard, a paleontologist, a zoo keeper and a veterinarian to clone dinosaurs and keep them on a private Costa Rican island, where they are to be the attractions in an amusement park for very rich children.

Michael Crichton has got so much of this right -- the science, the ethical dilemmas, the no-larger-than life-sized characters -- that the story flows seamlessly between fact and fiction; for the moment, at least, the DNA manipulation, the computerized systems, even the tyrannosaurus rex are plausible. When the safety mechanisms in the park break down, and the dinosaurs break free and attack their creators, it's not just the people in the book who begin to sweat.

On one level this is a Frankenstein story, a cautionary tale warning of the danger of scientific hubris as technocrats with finite abilities meddle in creative processes that are better left alone.

On another, it's a hair-raising adventure story that would do well on the big screen, with someone like Harrison Ford, or maybe Michael Douglas, in a starring role.

The disordered mind of Kenneth Taylor, the oldest child of oppressive Baptist Midwesterners, holds court in this gripping expose of domestic violence. A dentist described by Peter Mass ("Serpico," "The Valachi Papers") as sociopathic, Ken abuses alcohol, drugs and women, is capable of great charm and incoherent rage and calmly expert at deception and seduction.

With lies, romantic ploys and the silent complicity of others, Ken wins over Teresa Benigno, a spirited Italian-American from New Jersey. Sixteen months after their marriage, the 25-year-old woman is sexually assaulted and bludgeoned to death, her body discarded in a roadside ditch. Ken confesses that he killed his "best friend for life" when he caught her performing a sexual act on their 5-month-old son.

Mr. Maas masterfully conveys the horror of Ken's act and the grief and anger that Teresa's guilt-ridden family and friends feel, and sustains a sense of stunned outrage through a fascinating description of the police and legal investigation; a somewhat dry, but faithful retelling of Ken's trial; and an urgent narrative of the custody battle between Ken's sick parents and Teresa's loving sister and brother-in-law.


@Dance with the Devil.

Kirk Douglas.

Random House.

306 pages. $19.95.

Danny Dennison has a secret: He is a Jew and no one knows, nor must ever know. And this is a problem in "Dance With the Devil" -- in the '50s, this premise would have worked, but today it seems a bit forced, especially in Hollywood.

Kirk Douglas starts out well with a powerful story of persecution and death in Europe. His main characters take on flesh and we care about their future. Danny rises above his concentration camp background and becomes a famous movie director. Luba, who has survived by prostitution all her life, sees her material needs met. The two meet, and from there on the story becomes a tale of sex a deux, sex a trois, sex ad nauseam and little more. Along the way Danny has married a socialite, has had a daughter he adores and gets involved with his father-in-law, who vows to destroy him. The Jewish theme is ever on the back burner, but never really developed fully.

Mr. Douglas had a good thing going in the father-daughter theme, but it becomes dispersed. The author apparently believes the more coarse the language, the better the work. Next time, he should go deeper and wider, and let what passes as glitz go.


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