Riding with John Wayne

RIDING WITH JOHN WAYNE has a split personality. AARON LATHAM’s latest novel plays at being a murder mystery, but at heart it’s a gentle satire drawing laughs from that wellspring of excess: Hollywood. Latham drags his legendary Goodnight clan (familiar from Code of the West and The Cowboy With the Tiffany Gun ) out of Texas’s cowboying past and into the present. Novelist-cum-screenwriter Chick Goodnight finds himself transplanted from tiny Spur to the wilds of Los Angeles to turn his first book into a screenplay (kind of like when Latham adapted one of his magazine pieces for a little movie called Urban Cowboy ). Then naive cousin Sharon, an aspiring actress, winds up dead. Was it the sleazy producer or the tough-guy stuntman? This is pleasantly quirky stuff, but it’s the insider-movie- biz shtick (why is the assistant director yelling that “the shark is dying”?) that leaves an impression. Simon & Schuster, $26

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