Arthur Hailey is a practitioner of the Big Read; subgenre: the Big Topic. That means an uncomplicated plot (generally an action story) with a lot of little subplots, a large cast of characters, and more than you ever wanted to know about a particular subject or institution. The author’s earlier books include Airport, Hotel, and Wheels.

In The Evening News, Hailey serves up a kidnapping of international scope that eventually involves everyone from terrorists to media stars, graduate students, undertakers, CEOs, diplomats, rogue pilots, and a defrocked doctor, all told against the putatively glamorous backdrop of network television news.

When star anchorman Crawford Sloane’s wife, son, and father are kidnapped, the news president of the CBA television network tells Sloane he believes that ”we ourselves — an experienced nees organization accustomed to investigative reporting — have a better than average chance to discover where your family has been taken.” If not with similar logic, most of the dialogue in this book crackles with the same intensity. What the average chance of finding Sloane’s family is, or for whom, remains moot.

To captain the network task force that will go a-searching for his family, Sloane chooses his colleague, former competitor, and wife’s first lover (when she was a spunky American virgin in Vietnam), the battle-seasoned correspondent Harry Partridge. Partridge, a man of sensibilities but control, cries once every 10 years or so. When he does, it is copiously.

Quarterbacking for the other side is Miguel, a murderous terrorist-for-hire, who is playing at the moment for Peru’s Maoist revolutionaries, Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path). Funding has been provided by the de facto investment bankers of contemporary South America, Colombia’s Medellin cartel.

The chief marvel of this book is that Hailey often manages to convince the reader that what’s going on is plausible. He does this by piling detail upon detail: about news desks, money tracking, fake license plates, and much else. As a diligent journeyman, Hailey also manages to infuse suspense into the book’s lumbering structure, giving it occasional surprises and a nasty shocker in the final 100 pages. Yet always there is a sense of distance from characters and material, as if the former were carpentered together only to serve a dramatic treatment of the lltter, and the latter culled from the pages of Time and Newsweek, by column inches.

The prose is wooden at its better moments, cliche-ridden at its worst, and nearly empty of imagery. Clubbing a victim, a terrorist ”belabored” him about the head and shoulders. People wear ”inscrutable” expressions, are ”riveted by shock,” drink at ”a regular watering hole.” On the other hand, such phrasing may well be preferable to the alternative, as when in a jungle a character thinks of a ”loathsome legion of soundless, slithering snakes.”

This is not one of the Big Read’s shining moments, not in a genre that can provide entertainment on the scale of The Godfather, Lonesome Dove, and War and Remembrance. C-

The Evening News
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