September 10, 1984 12:00 PM

by Jay Cronley

Finch and Trout, the simple-minded protagonists of this novel, decide to steal a lot of artworks from a New York museum with a hideously complicated plan that includes kidnapping a whole New York police precinct. The police are even more dim-witted than the crooks—the cops are terrified of violence. The museum guards are inept too, and an outrageously henpecked police commissioner who wants to run for Governor is determined to make political hay out of the law-enforcement disaster. There is enough plot here for a whole season of a TV sitcom, but Cronley’s strongest talent is his dialogue, conversations that constantly go askew. At one point the crooks run into a watchdog named Henry, who doesn’t bark at them. “Henry is a person’s name,” Finch says. “No wonder he’s not all there.” His henchman, Roebuck, says not necessarily, there was a chicken hawk named Henry in a comic book he’d read once. Anyway Henry turns out to be a great watchdog; when he gets quiet, his owner knows something is wrong. The special humor—zany, intricate and unflagging—owes something to Damon Runyon, but Cronley, a newspaper columnist and novelist who lives in Tulsa, has his own pace, an original zip just right for the 1980s. (Atheneum, $13.95)

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