VICTORIES.orge Higgins.Henry Holt.298 pages. $19.95.Henry...


February 17, 1991|By BOB BAYLUS LOOSE BALLS. Terry Pluto. Simon & Schuster. 450 pages. $22.95.


orge Higgins.

Henry Holt.

298 pages. $19.95.

Henry Briggs is a former Boston Red Sox pitcher. Eschewing his celebrity status, Briggs is satisfied living a quiet life in Vermont, working as a game warden for the state and trying to maintain a shaky marriage. But Ed Cobb, speaker of the Vermont House and would-be kingmaker, has other ideas. He wants Briggs to run against Representative Bob Wainwright, an honest but dull Yankee who has represented Vermont's Second District for nearly 30 years. It is 1968 and times are changing. Using blackmail, Cobb gets Briggs to agree to run.

"Victories" is a nice tidy novel using themes found in George Higgins' other work -- adapting to changing times and the uses and abuses of friendship. While he has used the focus before, Mr. Higgins does a fine job in evoking the late-1960s turmoil and the atmosphere of small-town life. But there are two nagging problems with the novel. The first is in the few surprises in the narrative. And while Mr. Higgins has done yeoman work in describing Vermont, the locals and Briggs' election team, the portrait of Briggs is surprisingly flat. On the whole, "Victories" is a professional if not inspired novel.

Terry Pluto has written the history of the greatest circus of modern pro sports -- a dream worthy of Barnum known as the American Basketball Association -- by letting the acrobats, the animals and the audience speak for themselves.

With Pat Boone as a team owner; George Mikan as league commissioner; Bob Costas as a play-by-play radio man; huge bidding wars with the National Basketball Association for college talent; red, white, and blue balls; a team in Baltimore called the Claws that never played a game; and Julius Erving as God, the ABA put basketball on an entertainment par with rock and roll between 1967 and 1976. Since very little of it was televised, nearly all of the league's history exists in the memories of the people who were there.

Mr. Pluto, a former sportswriter for the Evening Sun who has written and ghostwritten numerous sports books, did a good job finding the right folks and letting them talk. But the book reads as though he simply transcribed the tapes: There seems to be little editing and no cohesion beyond breaking the league's nine-season history into three parts.

Still, if you are even a minor fan of hoops or have an interest in the wacky business behind sports, "Loose Balls" is a great pick-up game.



Philippa Gregory.

Pocket Books

439 pages. $19.95.

Even as an orphaned Gypsy child, Meridon secretly knew that she did not belong in that nomadic life of crime and poverty. Her nights were filled with visions of a vast land tract known only as "Wild." Meridon knew that discovering the estate was her true destiny. She was determined to escape the Gypsy life and become a woman of "Quality."

After years of hard work and several tragedies -- notably thdeath of her twin sister -- Meridon realizes her dream as she discovers the gracious estate Wildeacre. When she enters, the workers and the manager, Will Tyacke, recognize her immediately as Sarah Lacey, the lost daughter of Julia -- the late owner of Wildeacre. But Meridon's fate is not going to be that simple. She is tricked into a sham marriage by a scoundrel and his scheming mother. Before she sorts out her friends from enemies, Meridon almost loses Wildeacre.

Philippa Gregory's "Meridon" is a long, slow-moving romancfilled with preposterous coincidences and one-dimensional characters. Meridon is marginally interesting but hardly original or compelling. By the end, the heroine discovers that money isn't everything. For over 400 pages of cliches, that does not represent much of a payoff.


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