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STORYTELLERS: NEW IN APRIL : 'Sexy, Slick, Searing and Shocking'

March 20, 1988|DON G. CAMPBELL

From a novelist's standpoint, just how damning is it--faint-praise-wise--to have yourself described as one who "knows what makes commercial fiction tick?" That's what Publishers Weekly did to poor Mollie Gregory whose latest work, "Triplets," is one selection discussed here. Along with suggestions of a great deal of money descending on such a novelist, the phrase commercial fiction, also connotes, alas, a certain shallowness marked by the four "S's"-- sexy, slick, searing and shocking. Just how fair is it? A little slick, searing, shocking sex never hurt any best- seller, of course, but, fortunately, most (not all, but most) of them offer a bit more in terms of plot, characterization, and setting, either geographically or historically.

Still and all, novelist Clive Cussler ("Cyclops" and "Raise the Titanic!" among others) is no fool in building his latest global adventure, Treasure, around Dirk Pitt, in tacit acknowledgment of the following that his sexy, green-eyed, do-anything protagonist Pitt has attracted in earlier works. Here's a hero who can stir the libido of a shapely, female, secretary general of the United Nations, even as he is rescuing her in frigid, hip-deep, Arctic waters from a sabotaged airliner. Now that's sexy. The "treasure" here is the great library and museum of Alexandria, Egypt, spirited to safety in AD 391 to keep it from the clutches of Emperor Theodosius. And we're off and running in a race to see which superpower uncovers its hiding place first. You name it, you've got it in "Treasure," 1,600 years after the contents of the library disappeared. In addition to the race for the recovery of the archeological find of many centuries, we've got hostile terrorists from both Egypt and Mexico slaughtering innocents with gay abandon, a cruise ship hijacked with the presidents of Egypt and Mexico aboard, and a knock-down, drag-out finale on a remote island in Tierra del Fuego. Believability survives with fewer dents in its tough hide than you would suspect in this slam-bang rouser. "Treasure" is a Literary Guild Main Selection, and paperback rights have been sold to Pocket Books.

Not only are the rich unlike thee and me because they have more money, but while we have to pinch pennies, they can afford their bad habits in the form of swankier fat farms and detox clinics. In The Doll Hospital, novelist Peter Menegas takes us behind the secure gates of Connecticut's posh Tanglewood Clinic where the rich and the famous go for the removal of a variety of back-monkeys--booze and drugs, primarily. There's the famous actress who can't handle the stress of her smash new stage triumph, the 19-year-old son of a former U.S. President with an identity crisis, an alcohol-fogged member of Parliament, a high-fashion model at the peak of her career, a heavyweight boxing champion, and on and on. But, for Tanglewood's dedicated medical director, Roger Cooper, there's a lot more to worry about than the personal lives of his charitably unstable clientele. There's also the takeover attempt engineered by his co-owner of the clinic--a man whose own kinky sexual tastes might logically make him eligible for a little clinic time, too. For all its slickness, "The Doll Hospital" is a fascinating, and generally upbeat, study of the problems of drug dependency and how it is frequently being licked.

Well, sure enough, Publishers Weekly had Mollie Gregory pegged to the hilt. Her latest offering, Triplets, is, indeed, slick, searing and shocking, as well as sexy. But it's also a whale of a story--one that covers the Hollywood scene from the early 1950s to the 1970s as the three Wyman siblings (two girls, Sky and Sara, and the boy, Vail) alternately love each other, are consumed with interfamilial jealousies and are all unmercifully manipulated by their mother, Diana, the sort of stage mother who, as Dracula did with the bat fraternity, gave both vampires and stage mothers such bad names. Their career paths, and their love lives, cross and recross, and personal triumphs go hand-in-hand with personal disasters. As a wag once said of Hollywood and as "Triplets" reaffirms: "If you scratch through the cheap tinsel of the town deeply enough, you'll get down to the real tinsel." With a $125,000 advertising and promotional budget, this slick page-turner is going to be seen on more beaches this summer than peeling epidermis.

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