ISHMAEL.Daniel Quinn.Bantam.266 pages. $20.Daniel Quinn's...

BOOK BRIEFS

March 01, 1992|By JAMES COX KISS. Ed McBain. Morrow. 351 pages. Morrow. $17. | JAMES COX KISS. Ed McBain. Morrow. 351 pages. Morrow. $17.,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ISHMAEL.

Daniel Quinn.

Bantam.

266 pages. $20.

Daniel Quinn's "Ishmael" is not so much a novel as a Socratic dialogue with the part of the philosopher taken by a telepathic gorilla. The laudable lesson it attempts to teach is that the human species should not consume the entire planet (long on why and short on how).

"Ishmael" won the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship award "created to encourage writers to write fiction that produces creative and positive solutions to global problems." Speaking for the judges, William Styron said while this was the best of the lot, it was "not a worthy prize winner." But another judge, Ray Bradbury, is quoted on the dust jacket calling the book "a genuine discovery." The ensuing controversy attracted more attention than the book otherwise merited.

Ted Turner coughed up a half-million dollars in prize money, but I doubt this book will persuade him to renounce his world of big business and high technology, and live out his life digging for grubs and yams. In his years with the 87th Precinct, Detective Steve Carella had worked on a myriad of homicide investigations. He had been involved with every phase of the judicial process, save one: He never had to watch a trial as a member of the victim's family.

But that was precisely his precarious position during the trial of Sonny Cole. In a previous 87th Precinct book, "Widows," Cole was arrested for the murder of Carella's father.

While observing the trial, Carella also was working on a very strange case of a financier whose wife's life was threatened. Two murder attempts had been made on Emma Bowles. Both failed. Martin Bowles hired a private investigator to accompany his wife. When the perpetrator of the two failed attempts turns up dead, Carella's attention turns to the investigator, who has a shady past. Was the P.I. a protector or an executioner?

In "Kiss," Ed McBain has come up with another superb examination of urban life. Even after 40-plus novels in the series, he consistently breathes new life into the series; the books are complex and street-smart, with beautifully drawn characters. And, as in the other novels in the series, the ending is stunning.

BOB BAYLUS

WHEELIN' ON BEALE:

HOW WDIA-MEMPHIS BECAME

THE NATION'S FIRST ALL-BLACK RADIO STATION AND CREATED THE SOUND THAT CHANGED AMERICA.

Louis Cantor.

Pharos.

264 pages. $19.95.

"Get up outa that bed, children, and put them clothes on! I know you want to go back to sleep, but you can't do that. Don't worry me, now. Don't aggravate me. Y'all hear me!?" That was how Brother Theo Wade roused listeners to his early-morning Delta Melodies radio show on Memphis' WDIA during the '40s and '50s, but it could just as well serve as a metaphor for the role WDIA played in that city's black community. At a time when no other station would deign to cater to blacks, WDIA offered encouraging voices to buoy spirits on Beale Street, a center of black community whose warmth is reminiscent of the avenues celebrated in Spike Lee films.

Dr. Cantor, a white history professor who worked the WDIA control board while in college, writes with such verve that the bittersweet crooning of such WDIA guests as Bobby Blue Bland seems to resound from his pages.

Dr. Cantor's only notable failing is a subtle and subconscious form of condescension that is unfortunately common among many of today's liberal white writers. While the people on WDIA's staff were undoubtedly heroic in real life, he seems determined to draw them in superhuman proportions.

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