Evil Rich Granny
It has been a century since the birth of late Sidney Sheldon, Great Silverhead of Bestsellers, and I have decided to dedicate this and several following blog posts to celebrate the anniversary. I start with Master of the Game; whilst Sheldon was already massively successful back in the 1970’s, this was the book that catapulted his fame into a new level in early eighties. Maybe fittingly for the decade, the keyword seemed to be “more!” as everything is overstated in this saga of the super rich Blackwell family; characters, emotions, locales, situations and space of time.
The story begins back in 1880’s when a young and dreamy Scottish lad Jamie McGregor arrives to South Africa among tens of thousands other hopefuls during the Diamond Fever. He has to fight all odds and go through a terrible ordeal on a hellish route to cutthroat mushroom town of Klipdrift and further in the hostile South African desert only to see his miraculously found diamonds conned away by his lecherous financier, Afrikaner merchant Salomon Van Der Merwe who also tries to have him murdered.
Jamie escapes death with unexpected help from Banda, a young brave of oppressed Bantu-tribe who has his own axe to grind with Van Der Merwe. The two embark on a suicidal foray for a mercilessly guarded diamond field of Van Der Merwe in Namibian desert and manage to loot diamonds worth of half-million pounds, which proves to be the nest egg of the McGregor-Blackwell fortune. Until this point I can firmly recommend MOTG because the usually shallow on details Sheldon makes a good effort to bring the colourful Diamond Fever era South Africa to life. Also Jamie’s and Banda’s sea cliff-, bloodthirsty dog-, rifle touting guard- and landmine defying escape from the diamond field is one of the most exiting things he ever wrote.
Unfortunately right after that the story sets gears for a melodramatic soap opera when Jamie disguises himself as a wealthy heir and returns to Klipdrift where he puts his revenge into motion by seducing Van Der Merwe’s innocent daughter Margaret and ripping off his entire fortune penny by penny. During the process Jamie established his own company Kruger-Brent, which grows and grows until he is one the richest men in a world, whilst growing colder and colder himself until he is not all that different than his would-be father in law Van Der Merwe. Jamie’s only relative soft spot is Banda and he makes some valiant efforts to help his suffering people in throes of South Africa’s apartheid regime (back in the eighties it was nearly impossible to write a book set in South Africa without making some statement about the country’s then-current political situation). All this before the actual protagonist, Jamie’s daughter Kate has not even been born and there is still 90 years worth of story to go. Kate is the sole heir of his father’s fortune and in her need/drive/obsession to the “Master of the Game” she mounts the MacGregor wealth until Kruger-Brent is a largest company in the entire world with a net worth of 10 billion dollars.
The problem is, that whilst the reader is able to understand the reasons behind Jamie’s terrible deeds, Kate is just plain terrible person who does not hesitate to use her money and her skills of manipulation to drive away her future husband David Blackwell’s true love, to secretly destroy their son Tony’s budding painting career to keep him in the family company and sleeping with a lovelorn executive manager Brad Rogers for the same reason. Later Kate gets a run for her money –no pun intended- by her evil and cunning granddaughter Eve, who seeks to destroy Kate and her angelic 100% identical twin sister Alexandra. Rather lurid plotting ensues, involving sadistic Greek playboy George Mellis, botched plastic surgery and murder, before the saga ends to year 1982 as Kate celebrates her 90th birthday.
By then Eve has been defeated and Alexandra has given birth to a bright and delightful grandson Robert, who shows remarkable talent on a piano. On the last line Kate offers to help Robert with his music career but it is left to a speculation if she’s sincere or up to her old tricks again all in the name of Kruger-Brent.