A Sensitive Sensationalism

Dutch Shea, Jr. By John Gregory Dunne Simon & Schuster: $15.95: 352 pp.

"THE WHOLE PROCESS of writing is rewriting," contends John Gregory Dunne. Working simultaneously on a new novel. The Red White and Blue and the screenplay for a movie based on his earlier work. Vegas. Dunne views the creation of fiction as organic. People and plot grow together: "The situations is worthless without a character, and the character is worthless without a situation: asking which came first is the chicken or the egg question."

True to his words, Dutch Shea, Jr. focuses on several provocative characters entangled in a malevolent fate. The Travel's namesake, an assimilated Irish Catholic detective, finds himself constantly having to defend arsonists and murderers, partially because his lather, also a lawyer, committed suicide after being convicted of a white-collar crime. Slowly sinking in a quagmire of guilt and despair. She a still finds time to draw some colorful characters into his world.

We meet his girlfriend, the judge, who wears a .38 on the bench and at the age of 36 insists on living at home with her over-protective father, Lee, his beautiful ex-wife, also remains a force in Shea's life, especially since she alone was present when their adopted and much loved daughter. Cat, was killed by a terrorist's bomb.

The sins of the father are visited on the son: Shea, Jr. gets involved in the same sort of shady dealing that did in Shea, Sr., and the violent crimes of the client return to haunt the lawyer. Through the convoluted plot, threads weave and re-weave until every action seems to touch every character, from poor Shea to Harriet Dawson, a sympathetic child-murderer. Fate hangs over everyone's life like the faith the protagonist constantly tries to deny.

THIS SHOULD BE a depressing book: it certainly is not light humor, but irony keeps the plot humorous while Dunne's wonderful handling of colloquial dialogue makes even the most unsavory character somewhat likeable. One woman defends her husband, a heroine addict and convicted burglar:


"He in a drug program, he wouldn't do no hundred burglaries."

"I see."

"He shoots all day to relieves his disappointments."

"Of course."

"The judge give Hary a chance, he could function in society properly."

"Well said."

"His lawyer tell him to say that."

"I'm his lawyer."

"That was you tell him that shit?"