The Very Quiet Cricket. Eric Carle. Pilomel Books...

BOOK BRIEFS

December 30, 1990|By MOLLY McQUADE Peeping Thomas. Robert Reeves. Crown. 244 pages. $18.95.

The Very Quiet Cricket. Eric Carle. Pilomel Books. Unpaged. $17.95. Eric Carle's classic "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" was published more than 20 years ago. In few words and bright-as-newborn collage illustrations the book told of a caterpillar who ate his way into life as a butterfly. His latest book concerns another sort of transformation conveyed in similarly simple, enchanting terms -- a young cricket tries to sing, fails and finally finds his voice.

As kindred insects introduce themselves to him in turn -- a locust, praying mantis, dragonfly, et al. -- the little cricket wants to reply but is left at a loss for words. Yet when day lengthens into night, a girl cricket suddenly appears and stirs him to eloquence. (A microchip lodged in the book emits a cricket's chirp at the close of the story, which may charm children but seemed unnecessary to this reader.)

A visually amplified and more sophisticated version of the cricket that appeared briefly in the anthology "Eric Carle's Animals," this one grows physically larger as pages turn, until he is an unmistakably full-fledged character. Mr. Carle's multicolored collage work perfectly evokes the random creep, crawl and hop of a cricket instant by instant, earthily solid and changeably luminous.

Professor Thomas Theron is back for his second adventure. The American civilization professor from Ivy League Wesley College is contacted by the noted feminist Emma Page one morning; her latest cause is Proposition Six in Boston, an anti-pornography referendum aimed at Boston's notorious Combat Zone.

Because of Theron's reputation as a dabbler in smut, Emma decides to enlist his aid in gathering evidence to bolster the initiative. As she hands him a videotape, a bomb explodes, killing Emma and sending Theron to the hospital. Using the videotape as his first clue, Theron and his acerbic ex-wife Beth begin piecing together a puzzle of corruption.

"Peeping Thomas" has an interesting premise and a solid cast of characters, but falls short in a critical area -- suspense. Theron has a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor and his wry comments about himself, the situation at hand or college politics are entertaining. But you never get the feeling that Robert Reeves takes the plot seriously. And it is hard to believe Theron could solve the mystery in a game of Clue, much less defeat the nasties he is pitted against.

BOB BAYLUS

The Patapsco: Baltimore's River of History. Paul J. Travers. Tidewater Publishers/ Cornell Maritime Press. 220 pages. $22.95.

The Patapsco as a "river of history" -- that unspectacular ribbon of water that flows only from a small farm pond in central Maryland to the Inner Harbor? Paul Travers, a park ranger for the Maryland Park Service, argues just that point -- that "the Patapsco's size belies the enormous historical value of the river as a living link with some of the most glamorous events in America's past." Not only was the Patapsco an important part of Baltimore's role as an industrial and shipping center, but the first 13 miles of the B&O railroad were laid alongside its banks.

"The Patapsco" is filled with historical information and trivia. It seems that no detail is too small for Mr. Travers, and as his writing is only functional at best the book can be rather dry. Yet his diligence often pays off with delicious observations and anecdotes. My favorite concerns the July 4, 1835, opening of the Thomas Viaduct, the 660-foot bridge spanning the Patapsco from Relay to Elkridge. The bridge's contractor, John McCartney, is said to have been "so jubilant with the successful crossings RTC trains] that he served generous portions of whiskey to his stonemasons to commemorate the event. As they knelt before him, McCartney baptized each worker with a pint of whiskey."

TIM WARREN

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