MYSTERYGraham LandrumThomas...

THE ROTARY CLUB MURDER

September 05, 1993|By SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE THE SEARCH FOR ISADORA Lillian Loewenthal Princeton Book Co. 225 pages. $26.95 | SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE THE SEARCH FOR ISADORA Lillian Loewenthal Princeton Book Co. 225 pages. $26.95,LOS ANGELES TIMES BURNING THE APOSTLE Bill Granger Warner Books 341 pages. $19.95

THE ROTARY CLUB MURDER MYSTERY

Graham Landrum

Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's

217 pages. $17.95 Almost every small town in America has a Rotary Club, a group of business people who gather each week to have lunch, listen to a speaker and do good works. The Borderville, Tenn., club was expecting an extra-special guest at its next meeting -- District Governor Charles Hollonbrook, a high-ranking Rotary official.

When Hollonbrook is found dead by gunshot in his motel room, all signs point to suicide, since the door was locked and chained; the police see no reason to investigate further. But to club member Henry Delaporte and his friend Harriet Bushrow, an 88-year-old amateur sleuth, it looks like a clear-cut case of murder. For one thing, Hollonbrook had a Dick Francis book on his bedside, and he was two-thirds of the way through it. "I have read the book, and I had to admit that I would never have committed suicide without having finished it," Henry declares.

Several of the characters in this mystery novel take turns narrating in the first person, a device that is sometimes a little awkward. "The Rotary Club Murder Mystery" is at its best when Harriet, a self-described "nosy old woman," is telling the story in her charmingly homespun way. Fans of locked-room puzzles will appreciate the inventive solution, skillfully demonstrated by Harriet at the scene of the crime.

As an 11-year-old girl, Lillian Loewenthal fell in love with dancer Isadora Duncan in 1928, upon seeing a Manhattan performance of Duncan's Russian dancers. This book, her first, is the result of a 65-year-old magnificent obsession. The author, who has lectured on Duncan for years and owns an extensive collection of memorabilia, is mesmerized by the revolutionary dancer, and by her legend, which survives to this day.

She offers detailed information, not only on Duncan, but on her adopted disciples, dubbed the Isadorables. This is not history so much as it is a meticulously researched homage. At times the admiring prose is cloying, and one wishes for a little more emotional distance between subject and author.

But Ms. Loewenthal's descriptions of the dancers, their posture, their slightest gesture, are crystalline, accessible even to the reader who knows little about dance, and the illustrations, many of them sketches of Duncan, are exquisite. The book is really more about the author's relationship to Duncan and her legacy than it is a traditional biography.

Although the Cold War is over, there is still much need for an operative such as Devereaux -- Code name November Man -- and his ultra secret R-Section that functions inside the Pentagon. He is on the trail of a Middle Eastern money-laundering scheme. His interest in the operation is heightened because he can back a blood debt from an earlier operation that failed. He stumbles upon a plot threatening to turn a nuclear power plant into a U.S. version of Chernobyl.

With a dozen novels in his November Man series, Bill Granger has the formula down pat. His books are a fast-paced mixture of several plots with a bevy of villains and a -- of whatever seems to be going on in the headlines. In "Burning the Apostle," Devereaux's opposition consists of evil Middle Eastern bankers in the BCCI mold, a crazed Vietnam veteran, and a nihilistic eco-terrorist socialite and her weak senator lover.

Due to the nature of the series, the books are only as compelling as the villains. In this particular case, the criminals are so thinly drawn and foolish that it is difficult to take the novel's action seriously.

BOB BAYLUS

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