MARTIN.Ossie Davis.Simon & Schuster.215 pages...

JUST LIKE

November 29, 1992|By MARILYN MCCRAVEN THE DUTCHMAN. Maan Meyers. Doubleday Perfect Crime. ` 306 pages. $18.50. | MARILYN MCCRAVEN THE DUTCHMAN. Maan Meyers. Doubleday Perfect Crime. ` 306 pages. $18.50.,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JUST LIKE MARTIN.

Ossie Davis.

Simon & Schuster.

215 pages. $14.

It's the week before the historic 1963 March on Washington. Young Isaac Stone -- a junior minister who plans to become another Martin Luther King Jr. -- finds his plans to go to the march stymied by his father, Ike, who, still shaky from his wife's death, fears for his son's safety. And, besides, he isn't too keen on the idea of marching for freedom and justice.

Disagreement over the march isn't the only point of contention between them. Ike -- an oppressed black man in Alabama -- is never without his gun, which he vows to use if provoked. Isaac strives to remain non-violent even in the face of taunts. That contrast leads to an explosive incident that results in the pair resolving their differences.

Those looking for a way to introduce young readers to the history of the civil rights movement through an easy-reading novel will probably enjoy this, the first novel by actor Ossie Davis, despite its somewhat cliched ending. What was New York City like 328 years ago? For one thing, it was known as New Amsterdam, a settlement of the Dutch West India Company. Pigs roamed freely, there were only 1,500 citizens, and Wall Street was still just a wall. In this delightful mystery, however, New Amsterdam is shown to have one thing in common with the modern-day city -- there were plenty of

murders.

The town's sheriff is Tonneman. Mourning the death of his beloved wife, Maria, he has been drinking so heavily that he's often too addled to do his job. But he still has to stop a rash of murders plaguing New Amsterdam and infuriating its imperious director-general, Pieter Stuyvesant.

Meanwhile, British warships turn up in Manhattan Harbor, poised to invade. Stuyvesant vows he'll never surrender, but how can his tiny, ineffectual army hold off the mighty British forces?

The husband-and-wife team of Martin and Annette Meyers, a pair of modern-day New Yorkers, has vividly re-created the sights, sounds and smells of their city in 1664. They've populated New Amsterdam with a score of fascinating characters, including the bullheaded Stuyvesant, a mysterious Indian named Foxman and Racqel, the strong-willed beauty who captures the sheriff's attention. Fans of historical mysteries should relish this captivating novel.

SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE

THE BODHRAN MAKERS.

John B. Keane.

Four Walls Eight Windows.

` 256 pages. $18.95.

England is an escape hatch for poor Irish farmers in the 1950s. Just as James Joyce fled into exile from his own "priest-ridden race," so the dairymen and peat-cutters of the village of Dirrabeg are spurred to emigrate when the flinty head of the local Catholic church, Canon Tett, condemns the old Celtic rituals that have sustained them in hard times. These include a "wrendance" that features heavy drinking, trysts in haylofts and dancing to traditional music punctuated by a bodhran, or goatskin drum.

John B. Keane (best known for his play "The Field," which recently became a movie starring John Hurt and Richard Harris) proves in this 1986 novel that command of one's subject is just about everything. He persuades us that he's writing about a real place in which he knows all the residents, every detail of their work and handicrafts, all the spiritual ingredients that nourish humor and optimism in the face of bleak reality. If the prose of "The Bodhran Makers" is slovenly, the pace slow, the moral conflict a simple black-and-white affair -- well, it all seems a piece with the novel's rustic charm.

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