October 22, 1984 12:00 PM

by James Grady

James (Six Days of the Condor) Grady’s new novel is a snappy murder mystery that is something more. Janet Armstrong, salutatorian of her Eugene, Oreg. high school, had gone east to Harvard, fallen in love with a pimp named Magic and wound up a dead hooker in an alley in Washington, D.C. Her father wants to know why. So he hires private eye John Rankin, an ex-reporter for a muckraking columnist. (Grady did time with the muckrakingest of them all, Jack Anderson.) It’s 1980, the year of Abscam, Abbie Hoffman’s return, Reagan’s election and the balding of the Woodstock generation, which has traded free love for aerobics. The book ultimately focuses less on the murder than the trends it parallels: youthful ideals disintegrating in disillusionment and corruption. Rankin’s narration runs from sprints of incisiveness—a prospective client “smelled of dried whiskey and dead dreams”—to loping social philosophy. His attempts to reconcile his ’60s past with the Capitol Hill address of his ’80s present are like a concert of golden oldies interspersed with wild synthesizer riffs. When Rankin falls dumbly in love with the young daughter of a Senator, it exposes the romanticism beneath his cynical shell. The girl, a blank entry from the next generation, runs no risk of compromising her convictions because she has none. “We’re like a movie,” she says. “We don’t make any difference. We don’t last. We’re not even on film.” (Macmillan, $14.95)

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