By Vanessa V. Friedman
Updated February 24, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

A Crooked Man

  • Book

From his vantage point as a daily book reviewer for The New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt might seem ideally positioned to create the ultimate thriller. After all, he’s probably read, and judged, hundreds; all he would have to do (theoretically) would be to figure out what worked, adapt it to his own style, and — voila! — instant best-seller. Thus there is, in A Crooked Man, an evil drug czar, a dead daughter, a lightweight President, a baroque Southern family, a young son, some Mafia types, a randy Washington wife, and, for a hero, a somewhat clueless senator. There is heroin, and there is fishing. And there is a drug-legalization bill at the heart of it all. In other words, there is quite a lot, and there is also quite a lot left unresolved (a mother reappears after decades and becomes a plot device?), as well as much that is melodramatic.

In the end, you know whodunit well before the hero. The great thriller writers all manage to give their books an extra dimension to raise them above potboiler level — Le Carré creates character, Clancy drowns everything in technojargon, Crichton invents trends — but that is something that Lehmann-Haupt seems to have forgotten in his own work. Those who can’t do, review. C

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A Crooked Man