Title: "Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution...

BOOK BRIEFS

December 05, 1993|By SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE Title: "The Cat Who Went Into the Closet" Author: Lilian Jackson Braun Publisher: Putnam Length, price: 235 pages, $19.95 | SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE Title: "The Cat Who Went Into the Closet" Author: Lilian Jackson Braun Publisher: Putnam Length, price: 235 pages, $19.95,LOS ANGELES TIMES Title: "The Seduction" Author: Marilyn Wallace Publisher: Doubleday Perfect Crime Length, price: 256 pages, $18.50

Title: "Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution: Selected Essays, 1977-1992"

Editor: E. L. Doctorow

Publisher: Random House

Length, price: 206 pages, $20 It shouldn't surprise that E. L. Doctorow, writing nonfiction, is at his best discussing novelists such as Jack London, Theodore Dreiser and George Orwell; they, too, were sociopolitical writers, interested in the hypocrisies and duplicities of modern civilization. It is a surprise, though, that straightforward political writing should bring out the worst in this estimable novelist.

The 1980 article on Ronald Reagan, for example, is a predictable, ad hominem attack. These personal assaults make this book as uneven a collection as its title indicates -- but it also contains thoughtful pieces on politics, such as the bicentennial "A Citizen Reads the Constitution." Here, Mr. Doctorow takes the Constitution as a kind of "scripture" -- the founding fathers did, after all, "ordain and establish" the document -- that created "not just social order but spiritual identity."

This essay is worth preserving in hard covers, as some of the others in this collection are not -- and one can only wonder why Mr. Doctorow omitted probably his most widely reported public address in recent years, in which he criticized his then-and-current publisher, Random House, for "beheading" its money-losing Pantheon imprint by forcing out its respected publisher. Marilyn Wallace is perhaps best known as the editor of the best-selling "Sisters In Crime" short-story anthologies, but her fifth novel, "The Seduction," should establish her as a top-flight suspense writer.

New York magazine editor Lee Montara is spending a week at her sister Rosie's rural home, where she hopes to escape the unwanted attention of a free-lance photographer who seems obsessed with her. Life in the country is anything but peaceful, though; the sisters are soon being menaced by a psychopath who keeps dropping off odd, unsettling gifts -- balloons filled with blood, dead flowers and the like, each offering tied with a black satin bow. The book's chapters hopscotch back and forth between scenes of Lee and Rosie sparring with the intruder and flashbacks setting up the story.

As a longtime suspense fan, I was pretty sure I had the psycho's identity all figured out, only to be surprised when Ms. Wallace finally unveiled the solution. "The Seduction" is a compelling psychological thriller, highlighted by a vivid, finely drawn cast of characters. Jim Qwilleran and his cats, Koko and Yum Yum, rent the Gage Mansion. The mansion's owner, Euphonia Gage, is retired and living in Florida. "Qwill" is an independently wealthy newspaper columnist who has been involved in solving various mysteries in Moose County, Wis. Qwill decides to re-create a historically significant event to drum up publicity for his paper.

His project is a radio re-enactment of a fire in 1869 that devastated the city of Pickax. To Qwill's delight, Koko discovers old papers and various junk in one of the mansion's closets. Figuring the items might help him in his project, Qwill searches through the contents. His findings uncover secrets that rock Pickax. When Euphonia suddenly commits suicide and a farmer is murdered, Qwill and his cats must solve the puzzle before there is another murder.

"The Cat Who Went Into the Closet" is the 15th genteel mystery starring Jim Qwilleran and his two cats. Qwill and the cats are appealing characters and author Lilian Jackson Braun is scrupulously fair with the reader. But there is an edge lacking that keeps the books from moving from pleasant reading to engrossing.

EILEEN POWER

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