July 03, 1989 12:00 PM

by William Kotzwinkle

Maybe it’s a case of turnabout being fair play, but supermarket tabloids have been turning up in fiction regularly of late in such diverse, diverting books as Dwarf Rapes Nun; Flees in UFO by Arnold Sawislak, Bigfoot Dreams by Francine Prose and Trust Me on This by Donald Westlake. No one has rolled up his sleeves and plunged in with the vengeance Kotzwinkle shows in The Midnight Examiner.

Perhaps that’s because the protagonists in those other novels had to be dragooned into working for fictional versions of journalism’s fevered fun houses. The hero of this book, Howard Halliday, sits firmly in the editor-in-chief’s chair of the title tabloid. This blithely cynical caffeine addict and his overworked staff also churn out a slew of pulp magazines—Macho Man, Knockers, Young Nurse Romance and Teen Idol. Making up hideous tall tales all day and drinking all night, Kotzwinkle’s characters bump around in a depraved New York. The flaw in The Midnight Examiner is that after an enormously entertaining opening, Kotzwinkle, the clever author of such novels as The Fan Man and The Exile, fritters away his premise.

He gets lost in a subplot about a sex kitten, a mob boss and an unlikely assault on the mobster’s mansion. View The Midnight Examiner as a schizophrenic narrative or as the apotheosis of the tabloid strategy, i.e., rig up an irresistible headline or title and follow it with a shaggy-dog story. In any event, Kotzwinkle knows the first rule of the supermarket sheets: Get the suckers inside the tent. (Houghton Mifflin, $17.95)

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