RUNNING MATES.John Feinstein.Villard.238 pages. $19...


April 19, 1992|By SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE THE CANDIDATE'S WIFE. Patricia O'Brien. Simon & Schuster. 347 pages. $21.


John Feinstein.


238 pages. $19. Reporter Bobby Kelleher, who covers Annapolis for the Washington Herald, has spent six years dreaming of The Big Hit -- the stop-the-presses story of a lifetime. When the governor of Maryland, Barney Paulsen, is assassinated, Kelleher knows that his big chance has arrived.

In the search for likely suspects, Kelleher learns that a former Ku Klux Klan grand dragon named Jimmy Dumont was sitting in the front row of the House gallery when Paulsen was shot. So was radical feminist leader Jamelle Tourretta; since the lieutenant governor who succeeded Paulsen is a woman, could Jamelle have been involved in the murder plot? Someone obviously feels that Kelleher is getting too close to finding the answers. After narrowly escaping two attempts on his own life, the reporter realizes that getting The Big Hit could be deadly.

"Running Mates," the first novel by sportswriter John Feinstein, contains plenty of authentic Annapolis locales and features real-life statehouse reporters, including The Sun's John Frece. Unfortunately, nearly everything else in the book, from its cast of Klansmen, fanatical feminists and crooked police to Kelleher's incredible sexual magnetism (he beds two gorgeous women and fends off the advances of another), verges on the cartoonish. Add some major plot holes and fairly leaden prose, and it becomes obvious that this thriller just doesn't deliver. Kate and Luke Goodspeed married right after college. After 20 years of being a politician's wife, Kate understood the meaning of sacrifice. She had learned to adapt to Luke's schedule and raise their two children, Abby and Nat, almost single-handedly. But nothing prepared Kate or the children for the pressures that ensue when Luke becomes a presidential candidate.

As the campaign heats up, Kate and the children try to maintain some modicum of equanimity as their lives are run by Luke's handlers. Everything they do is open to public scrutiny.

Patricia O'Brien, a reporter for 20 years, was also Michael Dukakis' press secretary during the 1988 presidential campaign. "The Candidate's Wife" is definitely from a political insider's viewpoint. The novel's premise and approach -- from Kate's point of view -- is unusual and quite successful. Ms. O'Brien fully realizes her characters and does not stoop to easy cliches in the resolutions. Considering the events surrounding Bill Clinton's campaign, "The Candidate's Wife" is more timely than ever.



Walter Dean Myers.


168 pages. $14.95

This rites-of-passage book includes many elements that were unlikely to turn up in similar books even 10 years ago. It takes a frank look at budding sexuality, absentee fathers, the lives of criminals and poverty and how all those elements affect one young man. Author Walter Dean Myers delivers a poignant story about a black boy approaching manhood who, for the first time since infancy meets his father -- freshly back from years in prison.

The boy, Jimmy, whose mother is dead, lives with his maternal grandmother -- a good-hearted woman who has plenty of love and concern to give, but can't fill the void that makes Jimmy feel adrift in the world. Then his father returns and insists that Jimmy travel with him to Chicago to begin life anew.

The story line could easily have sunk into sappy sentimentality at that point, but Mr. Myers carefully crafted it so it seems very real. The feeling of unease that comes from traveling with someone living on the edge makes the book a real page-turner. The bittersweet ending leaves the reader feeling that a couple of weeks with his father helped prepare Jimmy for manhood.


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