There are few writers around as much admired by other writers as Herbert Gold. Which only testifies the disappointment with this, his tenth novel. For, despite a feeling for the bizarrely comic and a masterly hold on the English language, Gold fails to deliver. The protagonist here is Cordelia, a whore with a classic case of heart-of-gold (no pun on my part intended.) The "voice" is that of Al Dooley, self-styled "snotty but intense sociologist." The setting is San Francisco, top to bottom.

Written with a relentless cool, fired by an urgency to be culturally ith it, Gold's book - while undeniably brilliant in short takes - doesn't do justice to his considerable talents and intelligence. Briefly the story, what there is of it, centers around Cordelia, keeper of the House of Ho, her girls, the men they service singly and sometimes in gangs, and the attempts of a villainous female pol to shut down Cordelia's shop and keep her from organizing San Francisco's hooker population. Dooley hangs out at Cordelia's because, as a Berkeley professor, he is writing a book on victimless crime. He finds in Cordelia the very breath of love and compassion. Gold wants Dooley's Cordelia to be our Cordelia, but somehow he never convinces. If he tells us often enough that she is specially, perhaps even divinely endowed, are we necessarily going to believe it? At the end we are still "waiting" for Gold's Cordelia. (Arbor House, $8.95)

Anne Bernays