Star reporter Samantha Adams's new assignment for the Atlanta Constitution is the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. Resentful but resigned, Sam takes along boyfriend Harry Zach (Now Let's Talk of Graves) to ease the pain. While Harry spends time gambling with old friend Lavert Washington, there to support cousin Lucinda, who's Miss Louisiana, Sam explores the intricacies of the pageant--an industry all by itself--and some of the strange activities at their hotel: among other things, Kurt Roberts, one of the judges, has disappeared--to no one's apparent concern; weirdo Wayne Ward, one of the security staff, is busily installing and monitoring hidden cameras in the guestrooms; and housekeeping supervisor Big Gloria is too worried about her delinquent son Junior to care. Philandering TV game-show host/compulsive gambler Billy Carroll and suave mobster-restauranteur Michelangelo Amato are others in an unending parade of picaresques. Roberts's disappearance, and the two that follow, are barely incidental to the cool rap with a southern accent, the tumultuous pageant goings- on, and the opening chapters, unrelated to the main story, that achieve a level of tension and menace unattained by all that follows. Rambunctious, overstuffed, and undisciplined, but fun all the way.