Picks and Pans Review: Weighing Anchors

updated 10/30/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/30/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

>WITH THE SAME IMPECCABLE TIMING that made them the smoothest TV twosome since Huntley and Brinkley, both Canadian-born Robert MacNeil, 64, and Kansas-native Jim Lehrer, 61, have written new novels. Stalwarts of serious journalism for 20 years on PBS's MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, the duo have more than proved their mettle as unblinking newshounds, but what of those creative fires burning beneath their starchy white shirts?

As novelists, the boys fall somewhere between John LeCarré and Newt Gingrich. MacNeil's surprisingly tender, if sometimes mawkish, The Voyage (Doubleday, $23.95) gives us the middle-aged but still dashing David Lyon, a career Canadian diplomat caught up in the disappearance of an old flame. A restrained, mature love story set in exotic locales like Helsinki and London, it's sort of a Bridges of Madison County for bureaucrats. MacNeil, who's retiring this month to write full-time, spares us the sappy ending: He's a newsman fully versed in life's maddening loose ends.

Lehrer, in his ninth novel, aims not for the heart but for the head. Loaded with thinly veiled Beltway players, The Last Debate (Random House, $23) tells of a jingoistic presidential candidate and the four rogue journalists who undermine him by rigging a live TV debate. Lehrer, who moderated a Clinton-Bush-Perot debate in 1992, knows that nothing is funnier than real-life politics, and he wisely keeps his satire close to the bone.

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