Title: "Memoirs"Author: Pierre Elliott TrudeauPublisher...

BOOK BRIEFS

January 30, 1994|By MYRON BECKENSTEIN Title: "Maiden Voyages: The Writings of Women Travelers" Editor: Mary Morris Publisher: Vintage Length, price: 439 pages, $14 (paperback) | MYRON BECKENSTEIN Title: "Maiden Voyages: The Writings of Women Travelers" Editor: Mary Morris Publisher: Vintage Length, price: 439 pages, $14 (paperback),LOS ANGELES TIMES Title: "Death of the Office Witch" Author: Marlys Millhiser Publisher: Otto Penzler/Macmillan Length, price: 289 pages, $20

Title: "Memoirs"

Author: Pierre Elliott Trudeau

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Length, price: 381 pages, $29.95 The memoirs of this charismatic, dapper Canadian leader unfortunately look like a coffeetable auto-paean. Because this is bigger than the average book, heavier than the average book, printed on much better paper than the average book and with lots of pictures ("253 photographs, 106 in full color"), almost all of the author, a reader can be excused for thinking the book is meant to be displayed and leafed quickly through, not read.

But there is much in it worth knowing. From 1968 through 1984, except for a brief few-month hiatus, Pierre Trudeau was prime minister and personified Canada. Even today, he has more supporters than do most still-serving politicians. He was -- and is -- a man of ideas and principles, who both wanted to be a political success and get certain things accomplished.

Unfortunately, much of what he worked for was undermined when his successor, Brian Mulroney, reawakened the Quebec question, which Mr. Trudeau thought he had put to bed, and couldn't get it back to sleep again.

While the book is necessarily heavy on Canadian politics, there is matter of interest for the American reader. Mr. Trudeau sidesteps bad-mouthing everyone but recently retired Quebec leader Robert Bourassa. He even finds nice things to say about Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, while also giving more forthright opinions of them.

There you are, in the dining car, reading the letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, written in 1717 in Turkey, to her friends back in London. Or Isabelle Eberhardt, who died in 1904 at age 28 in a flash flood at Ain Sefra, writing about her travels in North Africa: "I feel lonely without Ouiha, and cannot stand the boredom."

Or Box-Car Bertha, "hobo for 15 years, a sister of the road," whose excerpt from "Sister of the Road" begins: "So I knew he was tired of me, or had another woman, or both, and when I told him that I was going away we were both relieved."

There's Joan Didion in Bogota, vigilant in her reporting of American culture as it seeps through Latin America, and Isabella Bird in Cheyenne, Wyo., saying goodbye to the Rocky Mountains. This might be for your pack/duffel/sea chest on the next trip.

Charlie Greene, the busy literary agent and single mom at the center of this stylish but convoluted mystery novel, has a hard enough time just getting her work done -- stroking the egos of her high-flying clients and putting together multimillion-dollar movie deals. Finding a murderer is the type of complication that she doesn't need. But when her firm's receptionist, Gloria Tuschman, is killed, it seems that everyone, from her boss to the police detective on the case, wants Charlie to solve the crime.

Gloria's nickname around the office was the Witch, and not just because of her abrasive personality; apparently, she spent off hours dabbling in black magic. When Charlie begins to hear Gloria's voice, she's sure that someone is playing a prank. Detective David Dalrymple, however, is convinced that Charlie has great, untapped psychic powers that, when properly channeled, will lead him to the killer.

The paranormal angle gives the novel an intriguingly offbeat twist, even if, like Charlie herself, you're never quite sure whether or not to believe in her supernatural abilities. But the down-to-earth elements of "Death of the Office Witch," particularly Charlie's relationship with her feisty, gorgeous teen-age daughter, tend to be more engaging than the otherworldly ones.

SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE

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