by Karen Karbo

When Mouse (née Frances) FitzHenry, a highly scrupulous documentary filmmaker, gets a frantic call from her feckless, bulimic younger sister, Mimi, to come to their ailing mother's bedside in Los Angeles, Mouse makes tracks out of Zaire, where she is on assignment.

Mimi could just be exaggerating. Still, the FitzHenrys' family history suggests otherwise. Consider the fate of the girls' father, Fitzy, who at 34 met his maker in a quite unconventional fashion: En route to the locksmith, he stopped in the middle of a crosswalk to pick up an earring—18 karat as it turned out—only to be run over by a two-ton dolly.

Now, 25 years later, as this hilarious story begins, Mimi and Mouse's mother, Shirl, has been beaned by a ceiling fan in a chic L.A. restaurant: "What were the odds of a father dying at the bottom of an on-ramp...a mother permanently brain damaged from getting bonked on the head with a ceiling fan....How come it never worked the other way around? How come you didn't win the lotto in the morning, meet the man of your dreams that night?"

To speed along Shirl's recovery, Mouse falsely announces her engagement to longtime collaborator Tony Cheatham, who has been wanting to tie the knot for years.

If only Mouse didn't have a horror of commitment, if only Tony hadn't written a screenplay documenting his and Mouse's relationship. If only Mouse hadn't gotten involved with her old flame, an Oscar-winning documentarian, whom Mimi had stolen—and married.

Karbo has written a smart, funny book about unresolved sibling rivalry, about marriage, but most particularly about the movie business. Though The Diamond Lane inns out of speed and credibility in its last pages, it holds quite firmly to its gleam most of the way. (Putnam, $21.95)

by Thomas Hagey

Edited by Rick Wolff

Magazine-length magazine parodies can get tiresome in a beating-it-to-death-and-then-stomping-on-it kind of way. Both these examples include too much to read in one sitting, but they also lock on to their targets' weak points with insidiously funny results.

Penthorse, created by the writer of The Best of Playboar and Cowsmopolitan, includes a suitably pretentious editorial by founder Bob Getchyerponi, a "center foal" who complains that "the only problem with being Center Foal quality material is that a lot of horses—both male and female—assume you're stupid" and an interview with a cowboy-eating longhorn from Texas. ("Penthorse: 'You're a killer?' Longhorn: 'Yes...Yes I am! and No!...No I'm not! I swallow them alive and what they do after that is their own business.' ")

The parody also includes a nastily pointed series of ads for liquor and cigarettes ("The Surgeon General's Little Comment Box: Careless smoking has been known to cause: barn fires, more barn fires, and the very tragic—often resulting in great loss of life—Barn Fire!") Not to mention an ad for the Hair Club for Horses.

Sports Illstated is the work of a group of writers headed by editor Wolff, a sometime SPORTS ILLUSTRATED contributor. They have perfectly nailed such SI foibles as its pun-filled captions (pictures of towel-flaunting coaches John Thompson and Jerry Tarkanian are captioned "How much can Tarkanian and Thompson expect the NCAA to towel-erate?").

They also have fun with the styles of SI's star writers. A story on the "Trump U.S. Open" by "William Emmy Johnson" says, in the sometimes stentorian style of William Oscar Johnson, "Back to the subject of manure shortly, but first a look at the equally surprising action off the course, which culminated with the most prestigious title in golf getting an appendage added to its name." A column on football predictions, in the eloquent wiseacre tone of "Curried Kirkpatrick" (as in Curry), sneers, "Don't you get it? You're just a fan. Heck, fans are a dime a dozen, or in these times of inflation, perhaps 25 cents a dozen."

Wolff and company muddy matters by including a number of straight ads. many for such charities as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (it takes a while to figure out whether they're parodies, like the ad for Jokey shorts or the house ad that pitches a free "Jock Phone" in the shape of an athletic supporter cup to people who subscribe for 15 years).

Mostly, though, Sports Illstated, like Penthorse, toys with its subject without doing it much serious damage. (Pent-horse: William Kent, paper, $9.95; Sports Illstated: Andrews and McMeel, paper, $9.95)

by Torn Clancy

This is the first Clancy novel in which the characters are more interesting than the hardware. Well, a little more interesting, anyway.

Superheroic, stoic Jack Ryan (the hero of four of Clancy's five previous novels) is called to action this time to help prevent a nuclear disaster and preserve the semblance of a Middle East peace plan. For most men such a task would amount to a career. For Ryan, it only eats up about a week.

Working under a less than mentally fit President, Ryan, along with FBI agent Dan Murray, deftly maneuvers behind the political scenes, constantly seeking explanations for a series of bizarre but interlocking incidents.

For Ryan, keeping the world in one piece is the easy part. Keeping his marriage to the dutiful Cathy together is a whole other story:

" 'Jack, what's wrong?' It seemed forever before she heard him speak.

" 'I don't know.' Jack rolled over, away from his wife, onto his back, and his eyes stared at the ceiling.

" Tired?'

" 'I guess that's it.' Jack slurred the words. 'Sony, honey.'

"Damn damn damn! But before she could think to say something else, his eyes closed."

There are times—like that one—when The Sum of All Fears reads as if it were a Dynasty script that didn't quite make it. The rest of the time, it's like a John Wayne movie minus the wit.

But at least, with this novel, Clancy is attempting to deal with real people and real situations as opposed to devoting reams of pages to the specifications of a surface-to-air missile.

Then again, you don't buy his books for his prose style (a bad imitation of Sidney Sheldon) or to load up on his deft characterizations (one dimensional even here) or for his realistic dialogue ("Yeah, but remember my Russian is pretty thin. I can't catch nuances like you can").

You buy the books because Tom Clancy tells a certain kind of story—the high-tech thriller—better than anyone around, and in that respect The Sum of All Fears delivers in all the expected areas. (Putnam, $24.95)

by George Eells

On Oct. 19. 1978, at the Osborne, a handsome old apartment building in midtown Manhattan, actor Gig Young, 64, shot and killed his 31-year-old fifth wife, Kim, whom he had wed only three weeks before, lie then shot and killed himself.

Why? No one knows even now, but potential for disaster was evident.

In 1969, Young won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for portraying a cynical dance-marathon emcee in They Shoot Horses. Don't They? He was 56 by then, though, and it was all downhill alter that—drink, drugs, humiliating collapses on stage and film sets.

Eells, biographer of a number of senior showbiz figures (Mae West, Ginger Rogers), has carefully reconstructed the life of this tormented actor, born Byron Ellsworth Barr in St. Cloud, Minn. After high school, Byron set out for Hollywood, where in 1941 Warner Brothers signed him at $75 a week and a year later renamed him Gig Young, after the role he played in The Gay Sisters, a Barbara Stanwyck vehicle.

Gaining reputation as a skilled light comedian, Young worked steadily (he had two Oscar nominations before They Shoot Horses). He divorced four times. (No. 3. when Gig was 43, was Elizabeth Montgomery, whose father, actor Robert Montgomery, wouldn't attend the wedding.)

While most of Final Gig is admirably researched, its explorations of Young's problems with women are strained. (A woman who looked after him as a child may have abused him sexually, Eells theorizes—without offering much evidence.)

Eells does make clear Young's preoccupation with Hollywood success, his fear of failure, and his concern with virility. (In his 20s, for health reasons, he had a vasectomy, which he tried to reverse during his marriage to Montgomery. His fourth wife, Elaine, gave birth to a daughter, but Young, later suspicious that the child wasn't his, rejected her totally. He left the daughter a mocking $10 in his will.)

It wouldn't have hurt Eells's book if Young had been a bit more of a thinker or wit. And the writing is often awkward: "The gritty and exploitive underbelly of the paternalistic studio system he'd sunk his trust in left Gig confused."

But Final Gig nevertheless has a certain power. Readers who have a taste for despair will especially value its record of a handsome, emotionally crippled actor's tragic-disintegration. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $19.95)

>RADIO ON WHEELS

FOR TRUCKERS, VACATIONERS OR JUST PLAIN ROAD WARRIORS, FINDING THE right radio station has always been a matter of guesswork. In other words: Don't they listen to real music around here? Relax. After seven years of research and travel along some 20,000 miles of America's interstates, Paul Rocheleau has compiled this book, a countrywide, two-volume guide to AM and FM stations (Berkley, paper, $8.95 each). It lists 20 radio formats in 68 cities, giving call letters and signal strengths. Eastern and western editions make it easy to find jazz in Nashville, a Spanish language station in Duluth or surf hits in the Big Apple. Just don't try to read all this small print while you drive.

  • Contributors:
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Lorenzo Carcaterra,
  • Jeff Brown,
  • V.R. Peterson.