Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

STORYTELLERS: NEW IN JUNE

Moscow to Maui to . . . Main Street? Not a Chance!

May 15, 1988|DON G. CAMPBELL

Leave it to the "serious" novelist with a profound sociological message to center his story in Youngstown, Ohio, the New Jersey marsh bogs, or a dusty beer-joint-gas-station highway intersection in the Texas Panhandle. It's a country mile wide of coincidence that the page-turners destined for the best-seller list tend to be staged in more exotic climes. Geographic glitter may distract from a grim political/social message, but in the Wonder World of commercial fiction it's the flaming brandy on the peches flambees . Take the indefatigable Danielle Steel, for instance (22 novels so far and it's only May), who in Zoya has created the beautiful and infinitely resourceful Zoya Ossupov, a member of the royal family, on the eve of the Russian Revolution. Comes indeed the Revolution, house arrest with Czar Nicholas and his retinue and then successful flight, just before the ax falls on Nicholas, to Paris--and to bone-crunching poverty. But in the best tradition of the "Unsinkable Molly Brown" and "Auntie Mame," Zoya emerges triumphant as a dancer with the Ballet Russe, a connection that leads to romance and marriage to a handsome, and wealthy, New York Army officer following World War I. St. Petersburg's royal glamour is relived as Zoya and husband (and, in time, two children) become the toast of New York society--on a first-name basis with the Astors, Vanderbilts, Roosevelts. But then Black Thursday hits, a fortune is evaporated, Paris' poverty is revisited and husband turns up his toes. Back up from the ashes, however, as Zoya finds her niche in the fashion world--and a new, also wealthy, husband replacement. It's a nice trait on Zoya's part--this ability to fall in love with the rich men, not the poor ones, entering her life. Unfortunately, none of them are any great shakes in the longevity department. Written, for the most part, in the fast-moving Gee Whiz! tempo that she does so well, Steel, in time, begins showing some restiveness with her heroine, her up-and-down swings of fortune and the repetitiveness of those swings. Still and all, as a Cinderella tale--a Cinderella having a great sense of double-entry bookkeeping--"Zoya," a Doubleday Book Club and Literary Guild Dual Selection, is already well into the black-ink column. And Zoya would like that.

Now let's try the romantic Riviera in Leslie Waller's tightly plotted and entirely satisfying Amazing Faith, a suspenseful tale of the storybook marriage of a major Hollywood actress, Faith Brennan, to the wimpy but photogenic Prince Florian of the tiny principality of San Sebastian on the Mediterranean, where gambling is the only source of government revenues. And we don't need a banner-towing biplane over the Santa Monica beach to know who this is all about. But inject some what-ifs here: What if the Mafia has taken over the gambling and has skimmed so lustily that the whole principality is teetering on the brink of Chapter 11, and what if the Irish-tempered Princess Faith succeeds in throwing them out, and what if the Mafia, trying desperately to regain its foothold, starts playing hardball? This is a great, and imaginative, tale told with fine wit and genuine suspense by Waller, best known perhaps for his wildly dissimilar "Dog Day Afternoon."

Or let's switch to lovely Maui and to Tokyo where Eric Van Lustbader, the master of things-that-go-slash-in-the-night, has based Zero on the exploits of American Michael Doss who is out to investigate the death of his father--most surely assassinated in trying to rout out a secret Japanese cabal, the Jiban, which is dedicated to restoring Japan's lost militarism. Van Lustbader has honed to a fine edge the art of creating dread as to what dark force lies around the next corner. People are frequently not what them seem--"A" is suddenly "B," or is he instead "C"? You skim-read the author of "The Ninja" at your own peril--plots leap-frog over subplots and Page X's victim is Page Y's villain. Who is Zero, the ultimate assassin? And who, and what, was Michael's mysterious father--not even a 300th runner-up in anyone's Father-of-the-Year competition?

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|