James O'Toole, 27, an Australian newspaperman, embittered by an unhappy love affair, comes to London to break into Fleet Street. Supposedly free from illusion about himself and his talents, he seems made to order for the Sunday Sun, a sensational, scandal-mongering weekly, devoted to the ""human interest"" side of the news. O'Toole's duties involve various vice investigations, to which the Sun is partial; fabricated interviews with country girls who went wrong in the big city; and, in general, the exploitation of all the news not fit to print. He finds reasons to justify his way of making a living however, until the Sun refuses to use his story on a nationally idolized teenage singer for fear of alienating his fans -- who are the same mental age as the Sun's readers. O'Toole quits and stands at the end of the novel without braggadocio and without the girl who would have loved him given the chance. Written in a kind of hardboiled style customary to detective fiction, A Crooked Sixpence is a documentation in disenchantment. But its major flaw is that O'Toole only ends where he began. One can believe in the authenticity of his journey but the worth of the trip seems questionable. Murray Sayle is an Australian. This is his first novel.