Hidden Agenda by Thom Racina
(Onyx, $6.99, NV) ISBN 0-451-18600-1
***
Thom Racina's third novel, Hidden Agenda, takes readers into a world of Washington insiders, media moguls and right-wing conspiracies. The premise of the story is intriguing but gets obscured by all the gags and the name-dropping of people like Bill, Hillary and Newt.

Jonelle Patterson is as bright as she is beautiful; she also has a perfect husband and two perfect children. Now she's about to be offered the perfect job as a TV reporter for Network ONE, a new television network that has big plans for Jonelle. They tell her she'll win an Emmy in her first year with ONE and that she will eventually anchor their nightly news program.

Just when it seems life can't get any better for Jonelle, it does. She's, literally, Jonelle-on-the-spot for the biggest news stories of the year. While in Manila interviewing Imelda Marcos, an assassination attempt is made; Imelda lives and Jonelle's Network ONE has the only footage of the incident.

Then she interviews a female Olympic diver and manages to save her life while the camera is rolling when the diver slips off the board. The exclusives just keep falling into Jonelle's lap and Americans can't get enough of her. Network ONE's newscasts garner huge ratings.

After studying the tapes of her big stories, Jonelle's husband identifies a disturbing common denominator. He begins to suspect that there is more behind his wife's phenomenal success then is being reported on ONE's newscasts. While Network ONE and its executives are the obvious villains, it quickly becomes apparent that they're just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the hidden agenda to make Jonelle the most admired and trusted woman in America.

Hidden Agenda has a fun, if hardly believable plot; it's also a tad too glossy with too many real people mixing it up with the fictional characters. If you're not familiar with the important names in Washington politics, then many of incidents and inside jokes may leave you feeling a bit left out.

In addition, it's difficult to ever be too concerned about Jonelle and her husband. After all, how could two such beautiful, perfect people not triumph over the bad guys? Still, if you can stand rooting for a woman most women would dislike on sheer principle, there is a fair amount of entertainment to be found in Hidden Agenda as long as don't mind sacrificing reality for entertainment.

--Judith Flavell


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