DAUGHTER.Nelson DeMille.Warner Books.` 454...

THE GENERAL'S

January 03, 1993|By BOB BAYLUS TELLING THE UNTOLD STORY: HOW INVESTIGATIVE REPORTERS ARE CHANGING THE CRAFT OF BIOGRAPHY. Steve Weinberg. University of Missouri. ` 253 pages. $29.95. | BOB BAYLUS TELLING THE UNTOLD STORY: HOW INVESTIGATIVE REPORTERS ARE CHANGING THE CRAFT OF BIOGRAPHY. Steve Weinberg. University of Missouri. ` 253 pages. $29.95.,LOS ANGELES TIMES MURDER ON THE SILK ROAD. Stefanie Matteson. Diamond. -! 231 pages. $3.99 (paperback).

THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER.

Nelson DeMille.

Warner Books.

` 454 pages. $21.95.

Ex-Vietnam vet Paul Brenner works for the Army's elite Criminal Investigation Division. He is at Fort Hadley, Ga., working on another case when he is summoned to a rifle range. Captain Ann Campbell -- an Army "poster girl," psychological war expert, and daughter to the base general -- has been staked out on the range, raped, and murdered.

Brenner resists getting assigned the case; once involved, he learns that Ann's murder had not been a crime of passion but part of a pattern of action that began nearly two decades ago. Paul Brenner must not only investigate a gruesome murder but also be aware of protecting reputations -- particularly the Army's.

Nelson DeMille is one of the few writers who consistently takes chances and consistently succeeds. Each thriller is different in scope and texture. "By the Rivers of Babylon" was a siege novel, "Word of Honor" a courtroom drama, "The Gold Coast" a study of evil and "The Charm School" about POWs in Russia. His novels are timely, authentic and filled with convincing characters. "The General's Daughter" is from the same mold. Steve Weinberg, journalism professor and biographer of Armand Hammer, promises an engaging argument in the subtitle of this book, but somehow he never gets around to making it.

One problem is that more than 40 percent of "Telling the Untold Story" is reprinted material, most of which concerns not the working methods of the journalist-biographer but the life of his or her subject; a second is that Mr. Weinberg fills in background and piles up facts rather than arguing his position.

It's interesting, certainly, to learn how Robert Caro evolved from a daily newspaper reporter into a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, and how the team of James Steele and Donald Bartlett of the Philadelphia Inquirer (also Pulitzer winners) use individual lives to tell the story of an institution or an industry, but Mr. Weinberg spends very little time discussing what attributes the journalist brings to the art of biography. Charlotte Graham is a cross between Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn and Miss Marple -- a much-married, multiple-Oscar-winning actress who also happens to be a gifted amateur sleuth. In her fourth mystery, she accompanies her stepdaughter, Marsha, on a trip to China. Marsha plans to study Chinese poetry in the town of Dunhuang; Charlotte figures she's "bound to find something in this exotic country to occupy her time."

What she finds, of course, is murder. Also at the Dunhuang site is a group of paleontologists, searching for dinosaur fossils. The most flamboyant of the bunch, Larry Fiske, is killed shortly after declaring he's just discovered something spectacular. Larry's money was untouched, so robbery is an unlikely motive. Could a professional rival have murdered Larry to prevent him from revealing his fabulous find -- or did someone want to steal the credit?

Charlotte is an adept detective and a charming heroine, not quite ready to retire from the silver screen. The thought of a movie star spending three weeks in remote Western China may seem incongruous, but Charlotte's the type of person who looks on the bright side; after all, Dunhuang "does bear a faint resemblance to Palm Springs," she quips. The detailed descriptions of the region's harsh, wind-swept desert, ancient caves and Buddhist sculptures will satisfy readers in the mood for a mystery set in a truly foreign locale.

SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE

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