THE GAME OF THIRTY by William Kotzwinkle


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Meet Jimmy McShane, private eye: street-smart, female-ogling smart-mouthed, sharp-dressing -- well, you know the type. (Picture Bruce Willis in the movie version.) His sidekick is Jane Henderson, a quick-witted, Rollerblading -- and yes, gorgeous -- chiropractor with such this-must-be-the-'90s obsessions as herbal healing and aromatherapy. (Demi Moore, perhaps?) This is one of those books that make you wonder why they didn't just go straight to the screenplay. Lots of great New York scenery, from uptown to Chinatown to the bowels of 42nd Street, lots of colorful stock characters, lots of scenes that sound like they were written with a film crew in mind. The plot itself is enjoyably silly, for a time, involving the annoyingly leering yet brashly endearing McShane in a quest for the killer of a Madison Avenue antiquities dealer who specializes in ancient Egyptian artifacts. His client is the dealer's daughter, Temple (picture Julia Roberts in one of her trademark damsel-in-distress roles), who has legs that won't quit and a confused, little-girl-lost demeanor that keep our hero's heart thumping and pull him deeper and deeper into the mysteries behind the perfectly composed masks of his upper-crust suspects. The book's title refers to an Egyptian board game that is said to reflect the state of its players' lives and handily serves just this purpose in the novel, predicting each move the characters make in a gamelike plot. If that's not enough to clue you in on what will happen next, there's plenty of author-supplied foreshadowing. Unfortunately, the mood devolves from over-the-top good fun to something darker and decidedly unfun during the latter half of the book, and the denouement lespite all the hints, comes as a too preposterous and sentimental letdown. Kotzwinkle (The Exile, 1987, etc.) is best here when he sticks to wisecracking skepticism and avoids the TV-movie drama.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1994
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Seymour Lawrence/Houghton Mifflin