BONEYARDS.Robert Campbell.Pocket Books.298 pages. $21...


January 31, 1993|By BOB BAYLUS THE SWAMP ROOT CHRONICLE: ADVENTURES IN THE WORD TRADE. Robert Manning. Norton. 419 pages. $24.95. | BOB BAYLUS THE SWAMP ROOT CHRONICLE: ADVENTURES IN THE WORD TRADE. Robert Manning. Norton. 419 pages. $24.95.,LOS ANGELES TIMES ( THE BOY ON THE BEACH. Margaret Meacham; illustrations by Marcy Dunn Ramsey. Tidewater Publishers. -! 144 pages. $8.95 (paperback).


Robert Campbell.

Pocket Books.

298 pages. $21. After several decades with the Chicago Police Department, Sgt. Ray Sharkey has absolutely seen it all. He didn't start out as a corrupt cop, but a sick daughter with a mountain of medical bills gave him reason. It was easy to start with petty shakedowns: "favors" for City Hall were the next logical step. Soon, Sharkey became known as the City Hall Pimp.

But Sharkey's reach exceeds his grasp, and his world begins to self-destruct. He finds himself the object of a sting operation run by a reform candidate for mayor. The bait is a payoff from a petty hood who has his own agenda. A woman from Sharkey's past also appears to threaten still another of his crumbling fronts.

"Boneyards," Robert Campbell's stunning cautionary tale, is a tour de force novel about big-city politics, corrupt police and very fallible humans. Mr. Campbell, who also has written a deft series about a Chicago sewer inspector and reluctant sleuth, gives us a story that is not pretty, but it feels authentic. You may not particularly like Ray Sharkey, but he is unforgettable. And so is "Boneyards." When we read Russell Baker's autobiography, "Growing Up," the humble details of his Depression-era boyhood are back-lit by his fame as a New York Times columnist. The story ends with Mr. Baker in his 20s, his career barely begun, but we scan it for hints of the happy ending to come, clues to the qualities that would separate him from the pack.

It's just the opposite with the memoirs of Robert Manning, newspaper and wire-service reporter, Time magazine writer, assistant secretary of state for public affairs in the Kennedy badministration and editor of the Atlantic Monthly from 1964 to 1980. The distinguished career is laid out before us; we search it for glimpses of the man.

Events and personalities parade by -- the beginnings of the United Nations, the miasma of the Vietnam War, JFK. and LBJ, Hemingway and Henry Moore, media moguls from Henry Luce to Mortimer Zuckerman, a host of colorful colleagues. Mr. Manning saw much and knew, it seems, practically everybody. Once in a while he ventures an unorthodox opinion (the Cuban missile crisis came nowhere near as close to Armageddon as we think). Still, nothing fades like yesterday's headlines.

The reticence beneath the witty surface of this book isn't just a newsman's conviction that the teller is less important than the story. Rather, Mr. Manning seems to have had so many of the right qualities from the start -- humor, balance, a gift for friendship, the ability not to get in the way of his own hard work -- that he experienced little of the failure or self-questioning that makes autobiographies interesting. "Lucky Bob," he modestly calls himself; the reader isn't quite so fortunate. "The Boy on the Beach," by local author Margaret Meacham, begins as Jessie and Will learn that their mother plans to remarry. Neither 13-year-old Jessie nor 6-year-old Will is ready to accept a stepfather. Their own father died in an accident four years earlier, in 1988.

Soon they find an unconscious boy washed up on the sand. The boy, Reuben Miller, seems to be a survivor of a boating accident. Actually, he has traveled 100 years forward in time through the magic of his grandfather's watch; now he wants to go back to the past. How he does so and what happens to Jessie and Will make up the rest of the story.

The middle-school audience to whom this book is directed will notice that Jessie too often sounds like an adult who's trying to sound like a teen-ager. As a result, the story lacks the magic it tries to evoke.


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