HEAVEN.David M. Pierce.Mysterious Press.` 229...

ANGEL IN

February 07, 1993|By BOB BAYLUS HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARTIN LUTHER KING. Jean Marzollo; illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney. Scholastic Inc. &28 pages. $14.95. Ages 4-8. JTC | BOB BAYLUS HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARTIN LUTHER KING. Jean Marzollo; illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney. Scholastic Inc. &28 pages. $14.95. Ages 4-8. JTC,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ANGEL IN HEAVEN.

David M. Pierce.

Mysterious Press.

` 229 Pages. $17.95.

Vic Daniel is going through a mid-life crisis. The 6-foot-7 private investigator from San Fernando, usually given to wearing Hawaiian shirts, is as much a "problem solver" as investigator. But Vic has a few predicaments: He has turned 44, still rents an office in a run-down part of town, receives tons of advice from his ex-wife, and uses an odd assortment of street people to assist in his cases.

Now, Vic learns the sad truth that he must wear glasses. Into this comes a message from a childhood friend who has wound up in a Mexican jail. He needs Vic's help. Vic takes several of his "associates" and mounts an elaborate escape from a Mexican prison in Merida, Mexico's hammock capital.

"Angel in Heaven" is David M. Pierce's fourth Vic Daniel novel. Based on this book, my advice is to grab the previous three and devour them, because the author has a knack for interesting characters, unusual settings and snappy dialogue. Of course, the centerpiece is Vic, a very unusual and endearing creation who turns the cliche of the cynical, see-it-all private investigator on its head. While the mystery is fairly standard caper, Vic and his friends are outstanding. Here is a book for all children to read, to celebrate the life of a great American leader. Author Jean Marzollo and illustrator J. Brian Pinkney have produced a picture book that emphasizes the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s qualities as a member of a black family, of a community and of this country. The ideas that were important to him are presented simply, in a way that young children will understand: the value of family, of religion, of a life of service, of speaking out against injustice in order to correct bad laws and of having an active concern for the poor.

Mr. Pinkney uses scratchboard and oil paint in his realistic illustrations of the young boy, the pastor and the leader. The visual images and the direct, forceful text combine to evoke a powerful message that will serve as a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and even more significantly to create a lasting impression in a child.

JUDITH B. ROSENFELD

ROUND UP THE USUAL

SUSPECTS: THE MAKING OF

CASABLANCA -- BOGART,

BERGMAN, AND WORLD WAR II.

Aljean Harmetz.

Hyperion.

` 402 pages. $24.95.

How could "Casablanca" -- made on a studio "assembly line" that churned out movies like canned tuna -- have acquired so much soul? Auteur theoreticians might credit director Michael Curtiz's success at keeping the paws of cynical studio chief Jack Warner off his project, but in this lively and accessible history, former New York Times film correspondent Aljean Harmetz shows that the project's ambitions were not unlike those that inspired B-movies such as "The Return of Dr. X." "Every script is concocted," "Casablanca" writer Julius Epstein tells Ms. Harmetz, "but 'Casablanca' was really concocted. We sat down and tried to manipulate an audience."

Drawing upon prodigious research that has captured "Casablanca's" story just as its last raconteurs were dying off, Ms. Harmetz credits sheer happenstance for much of the film's brilliance.

While Ms. Harmetz cites plausible theories about why "Casablanca" spoke to our culture (e.g., Rick's movement from neutrality to commitment mirrored America's own feelings just before entering World War II), she confesses that its success largely remains an enigma. As writer Howard Koch tells her: "I've got almost a mystical feeling about 'Casablanca.' That it made itself somehow and that we were all conveyors on the belt, taking it there."

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