ADVENTURE.Gerald Durrell

THE FANTASTICDINOSAUR

illustrated...

January 20, 1991|By MOLLY MCQUADE A DAMNED SERIOUS BUSINESS. Rex Harrison. Bantam. 288 pages. $21.95.

THE FANTASTIC

DINOSAUR ADVENTURE.

Gerald Durrell;

illustrated by Graham Percy.

Simon & Schuster.

95 pages. $16.95; ages 7-10.

British naturalist Gerald Durrell has an enviably ready stock of scientific knowledge at his disposal and an equally enviable sense of humor, displayed in 30 books for children and adults. With "The Fantastic Dinosaur Adventure" he offers a rollicking, eventful sequel to "The Fantastic Flying Journey."

This is an adventure story of the first order. The Dollybutt children travel back in time millions of years with their erratically brilliant Great-Uncle Lancelot, an inventor, to the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods to hunt down Lancelot's foes -- LTC Sir Jasper Collywobble and Throttlethumbs. The devious duo has stolen Lancelot's time machine and journeyed to the dinosaur era in order to capture live dinosaur specimens, return to the 20th century, and make big money hawking them.

The tale, although well-supplied with facts, is larky with foolhardy fun as an ample cast of small-brained, amiable prehistorics aids and abets the Dollybutts in their pursuit of justice. Some malcontents -- a towering, tiger-striped Tyrannosaurus, for one -- do get in the way. But the humans seem to make most of the trouble, and squirm out of it with ingenious brinksmanship. Graham Percy's looming color landscapes suggest the peril and pleasures of the voyage. And, happily, tucked into the book is the seed of another story to come.

In an interview before he came to Baltimore in the pre-Broadway engagement of W. Somerset Naugham's "The Circle," which turned out to be his final production, the late Rex Harrison told me he was writing a book on "changes of acting styles since I went on the stage."

Now that book has been posthumously published, and despite the author's intentions -- and the title, "A Damned Serious Business," taken from a quotation on the art of comedy by the great 18th century actor, David Garrick -- the volume is more of a memoir than an examination of theatrical styles.

Mostly, it is a rehash of Harrison's 1974 autobiography, "Rex." But it's not only a reworking of its predecessor, it's also repetitive in its own right. Furthermore, the writing style has the colloquial -- at times ungrammatical -- feel of inadequately edited dictation.

Still, Harrison fans are sure to find "A Damned Serious Business" a must. And you cannot help but admire a man who, virtually until the day he died, was not only acting but preparing a book -- a book whose last line is: "I want to go on working as long as I can."

@

J. WYNN ROUSUCK

THE GHOST

FROM THE GRAND BANKS.

Arthur C. Clarke.

Bantam.

274 pages. $24.95.

Arthur C. Clarke is associated with outer space in the minds of most of his readers. Throughout his career as a writer, however, he has returned to his training in oceanography to create stories of the sea. "The Ghost from the Grand Banks," a fictitous account of the race to raise the Titanic, is his newest entry into these waters.

Schemes to salvage the ocean's most famous casualty have multiplied over the decades. Starting from these, Mr. Clarke envisions the technology of the early 21st century to concoct a tightly plausible scenario.

A high-tech British glass manufacturer joins forces with an American inventor. They compete with a Japanese electronics and media conglomerate in league with an Irish husband-and-wife team who are math and computer geniuses. Both sides fail to hire the recognized authority in deep-sea work, who opts to represent the interests of the United Nations.

Through detours into theoretical geometry, plate tectonic geology, etc., the suspense builds steadily until the effort is threatened by forces beyond even the most capable human control. The story of the Titanic is one of unexpected endings; Mr. Clarke continues this tradition in "The Ghost from the Grand Banks."

JAMES COX

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