October 15, 1979 12:00 PM

by Mary McCarthy

The gimmick is as old as Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Grand Hotel or Ship of Fools. The year is 1975. A U.S. senator and other liberals—the female president of a New England college, a Jewish journalist, an Episcopal bishop, a bright Dutch politician—are flying to Iran to investigate reports that the Shah is torturing prisoners. In first class on their plane are several wealthy art collectors, planning to tour Iran’s treasures. Then terrorists hijack the plane and take their captives to a secluded Dutch farmhouse. The novel provides an ending that is surprising and solid. But meanwhile it is tedious going as McCarthy muses over the ironies in today’s headlines. Her old-fashioned literary pretensions spoil most of the pleasure one might get from this book. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $10.95)

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