The Tenth Insight (novel)

lush, romantic forest scene with waterfall and lakeIn The Tenth Insight, James Redfield picks up the religious adventure he began in The Celestine Prophesy.

Seeking a friend who has disappeared, Nameless Narrator arrives at a small Appalachian village outside a national forest in time to make eye contact with a man he sees walking away from him.

Nameless follows the man.

Something bad is happening in the forest. An energy company is trying to develop a new, clean energy source and get a monopoly on it.

Nameless realized there is a one-time opportunity to change the world if cheap energy can be made available to everyone in the world. A handful of good guys band together to prevent the company from getting a monopoly.

Easier said than done. There are armed guards around the site.

Even after the good guys have “cleared [their] residual emotions and amplified [their] energy and shared [their] Birth Visions,” they still haven’t “seen the World Vision.”

Their energy is almost totally deflated, but eventually they are able to “lift the whole valley to a higher vibratory pattern.”

Readers may want to wait for a movie version of The Tenth Insight. Imagine the thrill of seeing Robert Downey Jr. tell Don Cheadle, “Find the World Vision and resolve the polarization.”

The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision
Further Adventures of the Celestine Prophesy
By James Redfield
Warner Brooks. ©1996. 236 p.
1996 bestseller #10; my grade: D

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Cause of Death by Patricia Cornwall

a diver is just visible in murky water
Visibility is limited here.

Although her earlier novels met with critical acclaim and built her an audience, Cause of Death is the first of Patricia Cornwell’s mysteries about forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta to make the bestseller list.

Scarpetta is middle-aged, smart—she has a low law degree as well as medical credentials—feisty, compassionate, and a great cook.

In Cause, on New Year’s Eve a caller who gives the local weather station as his contact number calls Scarpetta to investigate the scuba-diving death of reporter Ted Eddings in the Elizabeth River at the Inactive Ship Yard.

Scarpetta knew Eddings, who was a favorite with people in her office. She finds the cause of death readily enough. The question is why Eddings was diving in that place at that time.

She has barely started her investigation when another suspicious death is reported. This corpse is Danny Webster, found shot to death in a wooded area of Richmond. Danny worked for Scarpetta and was using her car that evening.

Cornwell crafts a tense, complex mystery around very believable, human characters. Readers may not find the answers to life’s perplexing questions in a Cornwell novel, but they’ll certainly get a better understanding of the questions and why they matter.

Cause of Death by Patricia Cornwell
G. P. Putnam. ©1996. 348 p.
1996 bestseller #9; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

drawing of a donkey is art on cover of "Primary Colors"Primary Colors is a fictional backroom account of a current—1996—presidential bid by Jack Stanton, the Democratic governor of a southern state.

Henry Burton tells the story. Stanton doesn’t offer Henry a job; he absorbs him into his staff.

The grandson of a famed civil rights leader, Henry had worked for a congressman after college before abandoning the Beltway for a teaching gig. Henry thinks he’s being used as “racial cover,” but he’s very impressed by Stanton’s ability to connect with ordinary people.

He’s less favorably impressed with Stanton’s truth-stretching facility, nevertheless he finds a comfortable perch where he can observe the internal operations of the campaign while “working the phones, doing stuff.”

The novel is packed with historical and political trivia from FDR’s presidency forward: who ran, what made them good candidates, what brought them down.

Primary Colors captures the aspirations and intensity of Stanton’s political campaign as well as the idealism, audacity, dedication, duplicity, and stupidity of the campaigners.

The negativity with which the Democrats regard news organizations like The Washington Post and NPR, which today are trashed by Republicans seems odd, but as I write this in January 2020, the rest of Primary Colors feels very contemporary.

Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics
by Anonymous
Random House. ©1996. 366 p.
1996 bestseller #8; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Silent Honor by Danielle Steel

Oriental-looking gold characters on red backgroundDanielle Steel’s Silent Honor is a romance played out during one of the ugliest episodes of American history: the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Hiroko Takashimaya’s father, a Japanese college professor, sends his 18-year-old daughter to study for one year in California. Hiroko has no desire to do anything other than be a good wife and mother, but she is a dutiful daughter and will do as her father wishes.

Hiroko finds her American-born cousins are totally American. Her uncle, a Stanford University political science professor, and her aunt, a nurse, regard her Japanese habits as quaint as her kimonos. Only Peter Jenkins, Uncle Tak’s assistant, seems to value her Hiroko’s Japanese heritage.

When the family is sent to Tule Lake detention center, Peter visits every day. Inevitably, he and Hiroko become lovers. When he’s posted overseas, Hiroko is carrying his child.

Steel makes Hiroko’s homesickness and her dedication to fulfilling what she regards as her obligations to her father and her American relatives totally believable. However, she fails to make Hiroko’s misery at college and at the detention center more personal than an encyclopedia entry.

Steel’s readers and Japanese Americans deserve better treatment.

Silent Honor by Danielle Steel
Delacorte Press. ©1996. 353 p.
1996 bestseller #7; my grade: C

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Malice by Danielle Steel

spider web covers front dust jacket of Malice by Danielle SteelMalice, Danielle Steel’s 37th novel, is a failed experiment with the crime-novel format. Unlike romance fiction, which requires writers only to prompt readers to imagine what happens, crime fiction requires writers to show in what happens.

Steel begins the story the day of Ellen Adam’s funeral. After the mourners have left and the house is silent, Ellen’s husband rapes their 17-year-old daughter as he’s been doing with his wife’s complicity since the girl was 13.

For the first time, that night Grace fights back, grabbing the gun her mother kept in her bedside stand, and killing her father with it.

Grace refuses to explain why she shot him.

She’s tried, found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, and sentenced to 2 years in prison plus two on probation.

Grace gets out of jail, gets an office job, and starts doing volunteer work with abused women and children. Before long, she’s working for a New York lawyer, then married to him.

They have three children and Charles is a candidate for Congress when the tabloid press uncovers her past.

Even though Grace’s abusive childhood experience is plausible, her several recoveries from subsequent abuse are too quick, and too dependent on flowers, banana splits, and deus ex machina techniques to feel true to readers.

Malice by Danielle Steel
Delacorte. ©1996. 350 p.
1996 bestseller #6 My grade: C+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Regulators by Richard Bachman

house-sized cowboy with drawn gun peers over roof of suburban homeThe Regulators, which Stephen King wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, is an unnecessary companion to King’s novel Desperation, which he also published in 1996.

The Regulators opens on a hot day in July, 1996. A teenager is delivering the Shopper on Poplar Street in Wentworth, Ohio, when a red van rolls into town. Within minutes, paperboy Cary Ripton and a German Shepherd are dead at the hands of a shooter inside the van.

An autistic child, brainwashed by what he sees on TV, becomes central to the mayhem that’s about to unfold as residents of Poplar Street react to the senseless shootings.

Before the day is out, some residents of Poplar Street get killed.

Some find they have strengths they never knew they possessed.

All see and hear things that should change their lives forever if any of the characters were a believable person.

Bachman/King juggles bits pieces of fantasy and naturally occurring elements of human nature, keeping enough balls in the air to distract readers from paying attention to any one of them, and the insertion of news clippings, letters, and diary entries make The Regulators feel like notes for a novel rather than a finished work.

Read Desperation instead.

The Regulators by Richard Bachman [Stephen King]
Penguin Books. ©1996. 475 p.
1996 bestseller #5. My grade: D

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Airframe by Michael Crichton

title AIRFRAME is blurred on globe crisscrossed with flight lines Michael Crichton’s Airframe opens with a couple and their infant daughter flying back to America from on a charter flight. Nearing Los Angeles, the plane goes into convulsions.

When the shaking stops, the pilot radios for 40 ambulances to stand by. Two people are already dead.

Norton Aircraft, which built the plane, is in negotiations to sell $8 billion worth of aircraft to China. Bad publicity could kill the deal.

Casey Singleton, Quality Assurance representative on Norton’s Incident Review Team, is promoted to a VP position and assigned to manage the investigation, which normally would take a year or more. Casey is given one week to do the it. By the time she gets the assignment, the charter’s crew have already flown out.

Internal politics make Casey’s situation even more complicated. Union workers are fighting mad over  secret plans to move the company’s most profitable work off-shore. In addition, Casey has been saddled with an assistant who is related to Norton’s owners, has no relevant experience, and thinks he knows everything.

Like Crichton’s earlier bestsellers Disclosure and The Lost World, Airframe is can’t-put-down reading packed with information that you’ll remember long after you’ve forgotten the plot.

Airframe by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1996. 351 p.
1996 bestseller #4; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Executive Orders (novel)

American flag is background for author’s name, book title
Clancy’s focus is America.

Within minutes after Jack Ryan is sworn in to serve as a one-year caretaker vice president, Jack Ryan finds himself President. A kamikaze attack on the Capitol has killed President Durling, the entire Supreme Court and the Joint Chiefs, all but two of the Cabinet members, and most of the members of the House and Senate.

Suddenly Ryan’s “caretaking” means putting the federal government back together again. America’s enemies see the greenhorn president as an opportunity too good not to exploit.

Threats arise on all sides.

The president of Iraq is assassinated and Iran’s chief cleric assumes control of what he declares to be a United Islamic state.

China and India both create distractions.

At home, Ryan is harassed by the former vice-president, the media, and staff members who expect him to be political and presidential.

Terrorists devise a way to sneak the Ebola virus into US convention centers. They activate sleeper agents to kill the President and kidnap his children.

To follow Executive Orders, you’ll need to keep your atlas handy, but Tom Clancy is a marvelous storyteller. He packs with information worth knowing without letting it overwhelm the story.

I suspect few people under 60 will be able to follow Clancy’s story today.

That’s their loss, and America’s.

Executive Orders by Tom Clancy
G. P. Putnam. ©1996. 874 p.
1996 bestseller #2; my grade: A

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Runaway Jury

Close-up of carving on court house
Carved courthouse art.

John Grisham’s The Runaway Jury blends a mystery into a courtroom drama in a most unusual way: Readers know what’s happening and who’s doing it, but they don’t know why until the last minute why it’s being done.

The novel is set in contemporary (1990s) Biloxi, Mississippi, where a widow is suing tobacco companies for actual and punitive damages in death of her husband. Similar cases have been tried elsewhere, but juries in those cases did not agree on verdict.

Both sides know a decisive victory for the plaintiff would start a stampede of suits against the tobacco companies. Two teams of “the brightest legal minds and the largest egos in the country” are assembled to do battle.

Although both sides have done extensive pretrial investigation of the 194 potential jurors, neither side has been able to learn anything about Nicholas Easter, a 27-year-old clerk in a Computer Hut store.

Readers see the shenanigans of the courtroom adversaries and the mysterious behavior of Easter and Marlee. She’s a sexy blonde who calls the tobacco company’s lawsuit manager with advance information about what will happen in the next court session.

Grisham’s story is riveting and the historical detail is an education in itself. The insights for public speakers are priceless.

The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
Doubleday. ©1996. 401 p.
1996 bestseller #1; my grade: A

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni