The dust jacket of Black Sunday, by Thomas Harris (G. P. Putnam's Sons, $7.95), a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, displays a football stadium shadowed by a blimp and also carries an ominous warning from the publisher: "Do not begin this novel unless you are prepared to finish it in one sitting...."
Well, that's a challenge that even the most iaded book reviewer can't resist, so I plunged into Black Sunday one evening, fully expecting to be (as they say) riveted to my seat for several suspenseful hours. I finally finished the thing, with a huge sigh of relief, two days and two interminable sittings later. Black Sunday is a bore.
The novel has a certain horrible plausibility, to be sure. An Arab terrorist group, determined to bring its cause before the world, chooses the Super Bowl as its target. In odd alliance with an unhinged American who is scheduled to pilot the television blimp hovering over Tulane Stadium, the terrorists plan to wipe out the crowd of 80,000, including the President of the United States, by dropping an awesome payload of plastic explosive on the 50-yard line. They expect the televised catastrophe to bring the world to its knees.
That may seem farfetched, but the willingness of Arab terrorists to go to any lengths was amply demonstrated by Munich, Lod Airport and Maalot. By the same token, the Super Bowl could well be a sitting duck for any brand of nuts hell-bent on making a gruesome grandstand play.
But if the basic material of Black Sunday has dramatic promise, Harris has managed to make the worst of it. He has jammed the novel with stock characters: the voluptuous Arab temptress, the stolid Israeli agent, the slogan-spouting terrorists, the wily international operatives, and an American weirdo straight out of The Manchurian Candidate. Not one character engages any interest and so many of them flit in and out of the pages that keeping track of them is as difficult as sorting out the cast of a Russian epic."
Beyond that, the writing is dismal. In the guise of wisdom, Harris offers gibberish: "When pain and rage reach levels far above the mind's capacity to cope, a curious relief is possible but it requires a partial death."
If you want to slog through all that to reach the novel's unsurprising conclusion, help yourself. But I bet it takes you more than one sitting to do it.