Knipfel, the author of two well-received memoirs (Slackjaw; Quitting the Nairobi Trio), makes his first foray into fiction with a rambling New York City conspiracy yarn. Roscoe Baragon, jaded and faded newspaper reporter, has spent the better part of his professional life on the kook beat, consorting with and writing about the plethora of crackpots, perverts and conspiracy theorists littering the modern landscape. One of his sources hints of mischief at her residential hotel, setting in motion a series of events and strange occurrences: earthquakes along a particular Pacific longitude, NASA satellites falling from the sky, chicanery at the New York City morgue and, most sinister of all, the shadowy specter of a realty company staffed by toga wearers. Baragon emerges as a singularly unpleasant individual. His incessant beer consumption does little to add spice to his character, and his acquaintances are instantly recognizable types (and also spend much of their time guzzling copious quantities of beer). Knipfel's ability to spin something out of nothing stands him in good stead in his nonfiction, but his novel stalls for general lack of activity. The story's reliance on the well-worn idea of conspiracy theories suffers from Baragon's haphazard reasoning as he tries to jerry-rig an argument explaining the seemingly random weirdness afflicting the world. An intriguing link to the Godzilla movie franchise is suggested, but this spark sputters and dies soon after it is struck. Knipfel does bring some local color to his tale, but not enough to anchor the reams of speculation. (Mar.)
Forecast:Knipfel, a long-time columnist at the weekly New York Press, has a loyal New York following. Expect respectable sales in the city, and some interest outside it, spurred by a seven-city author tour (a Pynchon blurb won't hurt, either).