Kinsella.Ballantine Books.225 pages...

BOX SOCIALS.W. P.

September 27, 1992|By BOB BAYLUS AN AMERICAN HOMEPLACE: THE REAL WORLD OF RURAAMERICA. Donald McCaig. Crown. 224 pages. $20. | BOB BAYLUS AN AMERICAN HOMEPLACE: THE REAL WORLD OF RURAAMERICA. Donald McCaig. Crown. 224 pages. $20.,LOS ANGELES TIMES EVERY CROOKED NANNY. Kathy Hogan Trocheck. HarperCollins. 286 pages. $19.

BOX SOCIALS.

W. P. Kinsella.

Ballantine Books.

225 pages. $20. Normally quiet, the Six Towns area of Western Canada was filled with excitement in 1945 due to two events. The first was the pending Ukrainian wedding of Lavonia Lakutsra to her Little American Soldier. The second was an upcoming match between the unimaginatively named Albert Allstars and a U.S. Army team containing such major-league stars as Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio and Hal Newhauser.

The six towns were helping Alberta's chances by providing local hero Tuckbox Al McClintock. While not the most cerebral, Al was noted for his ability to hit a baseball. It was rumored he was offered a tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Each event in this novel gives W. P. Kinsella ample opportunity for his humorous musings. Best known for his novel "Shoeless Joe," which was made into the wonderful movie "Field of Dreams," Mr. Kinsella has published 13 books dealing with small-town life in the Midwest and the almost mystical connection with baseball. His usual ingredients of a large quirky cast of characters and meandering plot filled with humorous asides. The author is able to chronicle the frailties of his idiosyncratic characters without being smug -- a delicate task. Happily, "Box Socials" is the first of a proposed trilogy.

Donald McCaig, probably best known for his books about working border collies -- "Nop's Trials" and "Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men" -- in this volume expands his horizon to encompass the family farm. You'll encounter many dogs and sheep and trainers here, to be sure, but the best parts of "An American Homeplace" have to do with crops and trucks and floods and community service.

Community service? Yes: What comes across loud and clear in this book is the interdependence of farming life, whether through volunteer fire departments or the making of hay, support for the annual county fair or the manning of rural election booths. Back-to-the-land titles are commonplace these days, but Mr. McCaig's is better than most because he remembers the ignorance with which he arrived at an abandoned farm in Virginia (from a job in New York advertising and an East Village apartment, no less) in 1971.

We follow right along with the author as he learns how to perform a Caesarean on a sheep, locate obsolete car parts, and identify local produce such as the Jefferson Davis apple -- so named, apparently, because it was "mealy, tough skinned, and not very flavorful" but "kept forever." One handy tip for those who live, like Mr. McCaig, in homes where the interior temperature can drop into the single digits at night: Store excess beer in the refrigerator . . . where it won't freeze. After a decade working for the Atlanta Police Department, Julia Callahan Garrity -- who prefers to be called Callahan -- decides it is time for a career change. The earthy and opinionated Callahan purchases an upscale cleaning service, called House Mouse. But Callahan's old and new professions collide when one of her clients (an ex-sorority sister) contacts her about investigating a nanny who made off with her jewels.

The situation quickly changes from a relatively simple heist to one of blackmail and murder. Callahan is also confronted with a myriad of professional and personal crises, including the possibility of breast cancer.

As mysteries go, "Every Crooked Nanny" by Kathy Hogan Trocheck is light reading. It will succeed or fail due to the strength of Callahan. Fortunately, she is a pure delight -- a thoroughly complete and engaging character. She is as adept at the snappy retort as she is with a vacuum cleaner or questioning a suspect. By comparison, the other characters are not nearly as interesting. The mystery is only so-so, but Callahan is such a pleasure that she transcends the predictable plot and more than carries the novel.

EILEEN POWER

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