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Nessen was President Ford’s press secretary, and the first non-show- biz host of Saturday Night Live in 1975; Neuman was the first White House correspondent of that august institution USA Today, where she is now an editor. Predictably, these two are touted as the fictive equivalent of Carville and Matalin. One can almost hear the publishers brainstorming about other “power couples” who might ride that gravy train: Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols…can we get them? Sue Molinari and Bill Paxon…can they write? This game will continue, too; Nessen ‘n’ Neuman are reportedly at work on a second novel, Press Corpse.
Such clichés are the mainstay of this couple’s output; Knight & Day is all concept and no content. Witness its title, and its premise: Conservative, late-evening talk-radio host Jerry Knight (get it?) and “thoroughly liberated, thoroughly liberal” Washington Post reporter Jane Day team up to solve a crime.
The story proceeds as follows: A morally upright Environmentalist is murdered immediately after his appearance on Knight’s Limbaughlike chat show. The jaded Homicide Detective, he of cluttered car and coffee breath, attributes the crime to Homeless Druggies, and refuses to investigate further. Day—the spunky reporter to whom the Environmentalist leaked a Scandalous Payoff Story involving the Evil Chemical Company (“Z-Chem”) and the silver-maned Senator With Presidential Ambitions—overcomes her loathing of Knight as they ferret out the killer. On the air, no less.
Pedestrian dialogue, unambiguous characters, and a simplistic depiction of Washington make Knight & Day a serious disappointment. Given the authors’ high-powered connections, it’s surprising that their sauciest insight is that relentless name-droppers and unprincipled opportunists can be found on Capitol Hill. There’s zilch about the nation’s capital that readers don’t already know or can’t pick up from a rerun of Behind Closed Doors. Worse yet, the book’s unabashed raves from Larry King, Sam Donaldson, and Clifton Daniel should either reassure us that logrolling is alive and well, or instill in us genuine fear for the intellectual capacities of the fourth estate.
Would that Knight & Day served up Washington the way Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities did that other big city. But the qualitative difference between the two is like…well, you know.