If Tomorrow Comes, Sidney Sheldon, 1985

 

JOS HUOMINEN TULEE

Tracy’s New Life in High Crime

Tracy Whitney is a young, clever, beautiful (of course) computer expert who has a good job in a large Philadelphia bank. Overall life is good and getting even better because she is in love with Charles, an heir of one of the most prominent families of the city, and a wedding date is already set. But tragedy strikes unexpectedly when Tracy’s mother Doris commits a suicide in New Orleans. Tracy immediately travels over and learns that Doris had lost the Whitney family company, hustled away by a shady local business man Joe Romano. Tracy makes a haphazard effort to confront Romano, which only results her being locked up for 15 years in Louisiana women’s prison on trumped-up charges. In reality, Joe Romano is a henchman of local mobster Anthony Orsatti and with lawyers and judges on their payroll, they had no problem to frame Tracy for an armed robbery.   

Whilst incarcerated, all the usual exploitative prison-cliches occur to Tracy but the early prison part, which offers some genuine suspense and grit, is easily the most exciting of what ITC has to offer.  Tracy is pardoned after she saves the warden’s daughter from drowning.  After being released, Tracy enacts her revenge on Romano, Orsatti & co. by putting her newfound knowledge of conning and scheming in good use and secretly manipulating the mobsters against each other by framing evidences that they are skimming money from the mafia’s operations.  Most outlandish is the crooked judge’s comeuppance, which sees him being sent to a Siberian gulag(!)

Afterwards Tracy decides to return to Philadelphia to pick up where she left off but soon learns how damning her time in prison and criminal record really are for work and career prospects, Charles had already dumped her when she went inside. Embittered, Tracy goes to New York to meet a conniving jewel merchant, who had been “recommended” for her back in prison by another inmate, which leads to her new life as a jetsetting  conwoman and art thief. She also develops a competitive love-hate relationship with a handsome (of course) fellow crook Jeff Stevens. However, she also has an unexpected nemesis, Daniel Cooper, a highly intelligent but deeply disturbed international insurance investigator, who has vowed to catch her.  

Because the bottom line remains that Tracy is a criminal, Sheldon used a good old, if somewhat unimaginative, trick to ensure that reader’s symphaties stay with her by making her every victim unlikeable; a chauvinist sovjet chess master, a snooty British (gay) jewelry shop assistant, a (gay) owner of an illeagal casino, an Italian director who makes bad movies… and so on.

If Tomorrow comes provides many surprises and miraculous rescues from the long hand of the law, which are entertaining but would never work in a real life unless all the police forces in US and Europe get infected by some kind of dumbdown-virus. There is also allure, luxury and exotic locations to spare but somehow the book manages to be less than a sum of its parts. After her first trial and error heist, Tracy’s clever cons and heists become increasingly repetitive and by the con/heist#5 or #6 the reader starts to wait for a conclusion, which is kind of happy and bland one with Tracy and Jeff returning to straight-and-narrow together as a respectable couple. Jeff himself is just little more than a Sheldon’s usually run-from-the-mill, goodlooking loveinterest for his each respective heroine and gets introduced too late in the story for reader to care about him. This problem was solved a lot better in the 1986 miniserie -it was a standard procedure back in the eighties to make one from SS’s latest bestseller- based on ITC.

Intro of Sidney Sheldon’s If Tomorrow Comes miniserie, starring Madolyn Smith-Osborne, Tom Berenger and Liam Neeson.

JOS HUOMINEN TULEE PUSU
Some unknown library user apparently enjoyed this book A LOT…

 

 

Rage Of Angels, Sidney Sheldon, 1980

Give Him an Inch…

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Spoilers ahead.

Jennifer Parker, a rookie lawyer fresh out of law school, starts an internship in the office of Manhattan district attorney Robert Di Silva. On her very first day she manages to ruin a trial-of-the-century against Michael Moretti, a supreme Mafioso, which results him being released, a huge public ridicule and eternal wrath (or rage) of Di Silva. A laughing stock of the city and her once promising career prospects in shambles, Jennifer tries to lick her wounds the best she can by opening her own little, both in terms of physical office space and chances for success, law firm. And miraculously, Jennifer manages to get her firm off the ground because she really is a good and clever lawyer, although she does get secret help from Adam Warner, a hotshot from New York’s bar association, who feels sorry for her and sends her notable clients every now and then. However, a situation when Jennifer is forced to ask a favor from Michael Moretti of all people, rises and by mafia laws, she is expected to return the favor. This gradually leads her now highly successful and respected firm to become a pawn for mafia, not the least because Jennifer and Michael develop a passionate love affair.

Generally Rage of Angels ranks as one of better Sidney Sheldon novels although it is a mixed bag. The character of Jennifer Parker is one problem; whilst one can easily sympathise her in the beginning, it defies the credibility that someone so smart would allow her achievements to be swallowed by organised crime just because of her lust for hot and handsome mobster. ROA also represent the point when Sheldon abandoned his urban thrillers of the Seventies (although only his first novel Naked Face, 1970, fully belonged into this genre) for the outrageously fabulous entertainment of the Eighties (Master of The Game, If Tomorrow Comes, Sands of Time), thus there is still some half-hearted social commentary about how generally decent and just lawyers turn to predators in the court room, where only winning the client’s case matters, and how vulnerable the Little People without money, connections or right background are in that grinder. Still in the world of Sheldon’s relatively bland goody-two-shoes heroines, who come out at the top, Jennifer Parker makes a curious exception as a woman who willingly gives in to evil and pays the sad price in the end.

Queen’s Confession, Victoria Holt, 1967

The Queen Has Been Slain

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Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) was the last queen of France during the country’s ancien régime. Alongside Elisabeth I of England she is probably the most featured queen in books and films. In her take Victoria Holt, a prolific British writer of historical novels, attempts deeper and more personal approach to the tragic queen through actual letters that Marie Antoinette wrote, mainly to her mother Maria Teresia, the empress of Austria. The letters don’t offer much insight, though, due to their vapidity. One reads:

***

Your Majesty is very kind to express her interest towards me, even so that She wants to know how I spend my days in Versailles. Because of that, I tell Her that I rise at ten or nine o’clock and after I have been dressed I say my morning prayer. Then I have my breakfast and go to my aunts and usually I also meet the King. Then it is half past ten. My hair is combed. At noon the doors are opened and all persons noble enough may come in. I put rouge to my cheeks and wash my hands. At noon, I go to mass with the King, if he is in Versailles, and Dauphin. Then we eat lunch that last until half past one. Then I go to see Dauphin. If he has work, I return to my own rooms. I read, write and sew a vest to the King. It progresses slowly but I believe that with the help from Almighty it shall be finished in a few years time…

According to Queen’s Confession, Marie Antoinette led outwardly fabulous but emotionally empty life in her lukewarm marriage with Louis XVI of France. In popular culture she is portrayed either a hapless victim of circumstances or an ultra vain and careless spendrift. Victoria Holt stands in a middle; she clearly brings front Marie Antoinette’s excesses, especially her dreamland Little Trianon, but presents her as a generally kind-hearted although intellectually mediocre woman who was woefully out of her depth as monarch and immensely helpless to overcome the complex political schemes and machinations which eventually took her to the gallows. Or the massive hate campaign against her, which enables juxtapositions to modern life as she could be likened to social media hate figures of nowadays.

Holt is not at her best at describing this intrigue as it materializes mainly as petty court gossiping and eavesdropping servants. Also Marie Antoinette’s real life romance to count Axel Von Fersen does not rise above your average Harlequin read. What I found frustrating is that once again Louis XVI is simply portrayed as a wimbster who let his throne slip through his fingers and his family laid to waste. There is another book by French writer Juliette Benzoni, Un Collier Pour Diablo, which concentraces to Diamond Necklace Affair and provides fuller picture of him.

Queen’s Confession is however a very strong reading experience, told as a flashback from already imprisoned Marie Antoinette’s point of view, full of sadness and regret, describing a materially lavish lifestyle with a sense of imminent doom hanging over it like a distant thunder. The book gets almost disturbing when it gets closer to its end and harrowing details of the Bourbon family’s imprisonment. This is why I cannot full-heartedly recommend this to those who get easily upset.

The Deep, Peter Benchley, 1976

Sanders Couple has an Activity Holiday

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The Deep is the second book by Peter Benchley (1940-2006) after the blockbuster and pop culture touchstone Jaws. I have never read -or seen- Jaws so I cannot judge if he sunk into a sophomore slump or not, but The Deep has a feel that appears both easy-going and forced at once. The main characters are David and Gail Sanders, a relatively newly wed sporty couple, who have decided to spend their vacation in the Bermudas, scuba diving at the wreck site of ill-fated WWII military supply ship Goliath. They have no mercenary intentions although the vessel was fabled to transport thousands of ampules of morphine for wartime medical needs. They immediately attract the unwanted attention from a local potentate Henri Cloche, a drug kingpin with political ambitions, who wants to use the two to surface the stash of morphine for him. Stakes get even higher when David and Gail find out that Goliath is lying on top of an earlier wreck, 17th-century Spanish gold ship. Fortunately, they find an ally in Treece, a rough and slightly eccentric lighthouse keeper.

Although The Deep is very informative about how a seemingly effortless dive of only a few feets can become fatal if one does not know what he/she is doing, there is no real sense of danger in this book. Outwardly suave Cloche is not particularly memorable or innovative villain with his usage of voodoo shenanigans as a scare tactic and the Sanders’ are also little on the forgettable side although deeper (no pun intended) characters than in the 1977 movie version by Columbia Pictures. All this makes the abrupt and violent ending, which differs from the movie, feel like an afterthought.

However, The Deep remains smooth entertainment; Benchley’s strong love of sea shines through every page, scenery and locales are colorful and richly described and as a former journalist, Benchley always uploaded his books with interesting nuggets; like the difference between morphine and heroin, what is fire coral, why Spaniards preferred emeralds instead rubies and how to figure out toxicity of a fish before eating with a silver coin.

Kept In The Dark, Nina Bawden, 1984

Creepy Fat Young Man

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Kept in the Dark is a rare (at least back in 1984) psychological thriller aimed for teens and pre-teens. Noel, 14, Clara, 12, and Bosie, 10, have to leave their London home behind at least for a while when their father, who is an actor in theater and TV, suffers a mental breakdown and must check into an institution to seek help. Their mother is unable to provide for them on her own so the children move to the countryside to live with their wealthy maternal grandparents until their father gets better. Their grandmother is little kooky herself and their grandpa a grumpy old war ax who has never accepted her daughter’s husband due to his acting profession. The stately but decaying mansion, which the children are supposed to call their home for time being, fascinate vivid imaginations of the three. Especially young Bosie’s who finds all kinds of rather mundane but possibly threatening things from its mostly unused rooms, like an old WWII era revolver in a secret compartment of an old desk.

Kept in the Dark’s strength is in this viewpoint of a child, things can look exciting or threatening when the true, grown up meaning is left to speculation. Especially when adults are constantly hiding things and talk about them only between themselves with hushed tones. One thing is particularly kept in the dark is David, twenty-something, overweight drifter, whom Bosie finds one morning sleeping in a pavilion of the overgrown garden but who in reality is grandpa’s nephew. David comes inside the house and without further ado takes the control of the household. The trusted housekeeper is fired, David uses his grandfather’s Bentley like his own, buys expensive roller skates and motorcyclists leather suit, which does not flatter his figure. David’s obesity is almost a plot point that I’ve seen mentioned in all reviews of this book, it is not often when we see an overweight young man in books, in most cases, they only come as bullied childhood sidekicks or leering perverts or corrupt German lieutenants.

In no time, brash David begins to suck the life out of the other, feisty grandfather turns ashy, grandmother stops eating and does not leave her room and the old family dog begins to smell. Noel has suspected and shunned David from the start and although Bosie and Clara were initially under David’s spell, Noel soon gets their to support. I find it quite refreshing that this time there is not a long and frustrating period in which one person is trying in vain to convince others that a popular character is up to no good. Ownership of the revolver found in a secret compartment of the writing table becomes a burning issue.

The viewpoint of a child with lively imagination prevails until the (happy) ending when David has hit the road again and life instantly looks brighter. There is a relieved atmosphere at the dinner table but Bosie and Clara wonder what exactly happened and why, as David’s mysterious grip on the grandparents is never really explained. But as Clara says, “Adults always hide all the exciting things.”

Wideacre, Philippa Gregory, 1987

Mansion Monster

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Wideacre is a dark, twisted and uncompromising tale of grand estate life back in 18th century Sussex, England. The debut novel by Philippa Gregory, acclaimed British writer of historical fiction and non-fiction, was first published 30 years ago and has since become sort of cult favorite among literary fans, there has also been lingering rumors and demand for a movie version throughout the years.

Wideacre is a fictional mansion in the English countryside that includes a vast area of land, green fields, forests, meadows and a village called Acre where everyone lives as tenants of Sir Harold Lacey, the lord of Wideacre. The heroine of the book, if you can call her such, is Sir Harold’s eldest and only daughter, beautiful and spirited Miss Beatrice Lacey, favoured child of her father who taught her to ride in age of four and throughout the years she grew up to be a brisk outdoors woman and valuable help for her father in matters of farming and forestry.

However, soon enough Beatrice realizes being in a receiving end of destiny’s cruel joke. Despite being first born child and much more worthy and capable heir than her weak younger brother Harry, as a woman she can never inherit and run Wideacre, that is enforced by the law. Beatrice can only expect an arranged marriage somewhere far away from the land she loves so passionately but she decides to defy the law and the destiny.

This sounds like a commendable effort of a woman seeking her lawful rights in a time that would likely have suffragettes hang in public but it is something quite different. For Beatrice, the end justifies any means and I do mean ANY. She stoops into fraud, adultery, being grossly indifferent to people of Acre, murder, accessory to murder and perhaps most notoriously, incest. And she almost wins, however it is a Pyrrhic victory as during the process she has sullied and ruined everything she held dear at first place.

The immense unlikeableness of Beatrice is both the strength and weakness of Widecare, she certainly makes a memorable main character but distracts the reader from enjoying this well written and researched novel because one is too eager to see Beatrice getting her comeuppance. Despite the lurid aspects, I still recommend this to anyone with interest and fondness for English mansions and life in them as Wideacre tells and describes the everyday life and work in mansions and what role these places played in economy and society at the time. This is the first part of a trilogy and I have never read the second and third book, Favoured Child and Meridon but apparently, Beatrice’s wicked witchery proved ongoing.

More Than Dreams, Pamela Bullard, 1987

Feministic TV-world Artefact from the Eighties

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Katherine “Kate” Marchand is a forty-something CEO of Boston-based TV-station WLYM. She wakes up 5am after her regular five hours sleep, brushes her teeth while computer inside her head switches to Work and Today’s Schedule-mode, which involves countless duties and tasks of being the CEO of America’s most prestigious TV-station. This is indicative of the tone of More Than Dreams, WLYM is not “one” of the most prestigious TV-stations in America, it’s THE most prestigious, elevated to that position by the iron fist of Kate Marchand. However, this is not a story of a high-strung career woman who learns that she has pursued things she never really wanted, no ma’am, author Pamela Bullard reveres her heroine and would not have her any other way.

Pamela Bullard has worked many years in television as a local reporter for ABC and news anchor for WGBH, she has also lecturer in Harward and Boston University and it’s hard to escape the impression that Kate Marchand is her would-be alter ego: Kate is the only female TV-station CEO in United States (the story is set to 1982), shelves in her office groan under the weight of Emmy’s and Peabody’s, her work ethics are second to none, she is pragmatic to the bone, intelligent, talented, capable, visionary, flawless. Her only human weakness is her emotional dependency on her latently unfaithful husband Jonathan who is a world-class neurosurgeon.

Obstacle of More Than Dreams is that despite the author’s own support and infatuation for her protagonist, the Ice Queen, boss-from-hell Kate Marchand makes a tough character to like. Bullard tries to soften her by revealing that she suffers a chronic back pain, due to grenade incident during her time as heroic war reporter in Vietnam.

In the beginning WLYMS’s eleven o’clock news have been second in ratings for two consecutive weeks, due to the female anchor having lost her sparkle, and because Kate does not tolerate one hiccup in her well-oiled machine, she sets out for new blood… face. So enter Kim Winston, a recently widowed and a mother of one, New York small time TV-reporter destined for bigger and better things. Kim comes to WLYM and quickly lifts the station even higher spheres, not just as a stellar news anchor but also with her uncompromising and earth-shaking special reports about state’s corrupted youth welfare system, human trafficking ring and ruthless drug lords.

Kate and Kim form a winning pair in business but also get as close to friends as  Kate allows herself to, they are drawn to each by their mutual intelligence, talent and stamina. One cannot help but feel a little left out as Kate treats most of the people she comes in contact with more or less thinly veiled contempt because they fail to meet her standards. But things go little pear-shaped when Kim falls into sack with Dr. Jonathan in what proves to be the weakest link of this otherwise decent novel. He makes the first move and Kim goes along with it because she has poured two bottles of Dom Perignon into herself and thinks that Jonathan is her late husband(!) Dr. Jonathan’s motives are left cloudy, surely even the most cheat-happy husband, especially one who is supposed to be so smart, would think twice before taking advantage of his wife’s best friend and employer.

Now, that betrayal is not the dramatic highlight of More Than Dreams, a good part of it is almost prosaic story of how committed Kate is to her work, albeit instead the Staten Island ferry, this Working Girl whisks to work in her Jaguar from her suburban mansion. There is also some gritty realism in Kim’s exposés and the end of book teeters towards action as Kim, Kate and WLYM end up to bad side of the Uzi-wielding drug dealers.

Written and published a decade before internet’s arrival, More Than Dreams offers a nostalgic view to the TV-world and news anchors, to time when people actually cared a great deal about who provided them their daily dose of doom and gloom. At one point Kate shuns cooking programs in favor of prime time soaps, deeming cooking shows passé. Hello, Mrs. Marchand, MasterChef, Come Dine With Me, The Taste etc. etc. called and said up yours.