Running fever has definitely reached popular fiction. But, unlike Mark Kram's Miles to Go (p. 26) or Richard Watson's The...



Running fever has definitely reached popular fiction. But, unlike Mark Kram's Miles to Go (p. 26) or Richard Watson's The Runner (p. 232), this wholesome, old-fashioned, likably corny novel offers a great deal more than racing heartbeats and straining tendons: McNab--the ""athletic consultant"" for Chariots of Fire--compounds his running expertise here with other sports (boxing, Highland Games), with 1931 atmosphere, with warm camaraderie. . . and with an appealing flim-flam man of a hero. This is veteran promoter/con-man Flanagan, mastermind of the ""Trans-America"" race: 2000 marathoners will attempt to run from L.A. to N.Y., averaging 50 miles a day for three months, with $300,000 in prizes for those with the best accumulated times. Flanagan's profit? The $200-per-runner entry fees, the film rights, and the fees paid by towns across the country--for the privilege of being put on the runners' route. Among the contestants: 54-year-old ""Doc"" Cole, a sometime snake-oil peddler and longtime expert-runner (he lost at the Olympics); Hugh McPhail from Scotland, a Depression victim; ex-steelworker Mike Morgan, wanted on a manslaughter charge (for an accidental boxing-ring fatality), desperate for money to send home to his motherless son; Juan Martinez, hoping to save his native Mexican village; an English nobleman; a group of Nazi youths (complete with drug-dispensing manager); and ex-burlesque dancer Kate Sheridan, who'll get a special prize if she comes in among the top 200 finishers. Predictably, then, much of McNab's attention goes to these featured runners' aches and pains through desert and mountain country--convincingly detailed. Not so predictable are the offbeat detours along the way: Flanagan, increasingly desperate for income (assorted enemies are trying to sabotage the race), makes deals and bets with abandon; so the runners, who become Flanagan's allies in keeping the race alive, wind up racing against horses, doing Highland flings in McPhee, Utah (where they also have a tug-of-war against the local Amazons), or moonlighting as prize-fighters. There's a tad of romance, of course--as Mike and Kate quietly pair up, as do Hugh and Flanagan's assistant Dixie. But the emotional heart of the novel is the intra-runner fellowship: mutual assistance, advice, prize-splitting agreements--plus some vengeance when Martinez is killed in Chicago by Capone henchmen (who have backed another runner). And before the windup--an unexpected, winner-takes-all one-day marathon in N.Y.--there'll be amusing involvements with a famed evangelist, the FBI, and a foul, stuffy Olympics official who is determined to destroy Flanagan's vulgar, carnival-style event. Episodic, contrived, and not always plausible? Perhaps. The easygoing pleasure, however, is steady throughout--with lovable people, outlandish logistics, period scenery, solid physiology, and a touch of Kaufman-and-Hart farce whenever Flanagan's in action.

Pub Date: June 15, 1982

ISBN: 1449084052

Page Count: -

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1982