Memories of Another Day

Close-up photo of blue eyes is at center of front cover of Memories of Another Day.
The cover art has nothing to do with the novel’s story.

Memories of Another Day is less awful than many of Harold Robbins’s bestsellers.

The story is told in sections alternating between “now” and “memories of another day.”

The memories are better than now.

The story is about Daniel Boone Huggins, a West Virginia hill country kid growing up dirt-poor in the early 1900s.

His father isn’t savvy enough to sell his moonshine for what it’s worth. The family needs cash.

Dan is sent off to find work. He ends up in a coal mine.

Dan’s sister, who had married a union organizer, is killed along with him.

Dan leaves West Virginia a confirmed union man.

Dan is a typical Robbins hero. Smart and incorruptible, he’s a hard-drinking stud, pursued by every woman who sees him.

He has a son, Daniel Jr., by one wife, and another, Jonathan, by a second wife who is younger than Dan Jr.

After Dan Sr. dies, Jonathan, 17, full of adolescent rebellion against his father, inexplicably goes off to find his father’s roots.

The memories of Big Dan’s labor union organizing experiences are riveting.

The tale of Jonathan’s getting in touch with his father’s legacy is absurd.

Memories of Another Day by Harold ROBBINS
Simon and Schuster, ©1979. 491 p.
1979 bestseller #04 My grade: B

 

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The Matarese Circle

Robert Ludlum’s The Matarese Circle is an edge-of-the-seat thriller that will hold your attention to the final full stop.

Black background of dust jacket sets off white type and circular blue mark of The Matarese.
The blue mark identifies Matarese members .

The lead characters are an American spy, Brandon Scofield, and his Soviet counterpart, Vasili Taleniekov.

The two are deadly enemies. Scofield holds Taleniekov responsible for his wife’s death; Taleniekov blames Scofield for killing his brother in retaliation.

When the Russian stumbles upon a secret organization that’s financing terrorists around the world, he can’t discern the Matarese’s motive, but he knows the Matarese must be stopped.

To stop them, Taleniekov has to get Scofield to work with him.

Both men are the best in their respective nations’ intelligence communities.

Both are considered mavericks.

Both are tired.

Both are beginning to doubt that their lives’ work has made any difference.

Once they agree to cooperate, the pair go to Corsica where the Matarese is legendary but never spoken of to outsiders and not often mentioned among Corsicans.

Whispers suggest the organization dates from the eleventh century.

Intelligence services know the Matarese provided assassins for hire until the 1930s.

No one knows what they are doing in the 1970s

Ludlum spins a good yarn.

The unlikely collaborators deal the Matarese a death blow.

Or do they?

The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum
R. Marek Publishers, ©1979. 601 p.
1979 bestseller #01 My grade: B+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Dreams Die First

Dreams Die First is another of Harold Robbins’ raunchy tales about sex to fit all tastes.

“Dreams Die First” cover features a woman's breasts, nipples tastefully concealed.
Cover art is most tasteful part of Dreams Die First.

The story is about Gareth Brendan, Vietnam vet, doing nothing rather unsuccessfully in California when his rich, powerful uncle offers him control of an underground newspaper.

Gareth had tried writing: No one would buy his stuff.

Now his unemployment has run out.

He takes the offer.

Gareth finds he has an aptitude for sleaze.

He goes from the newspaper, to a magazine called Macho which features the “supercunt of the month.”

From there he expands into “Lifestyle” publications and clubs not just for men interested in women.

He’s about to take his company public (I inadvertently typed pubic instead of public. I’ve been reading too much Robbins.) when the operation falls apart.

No worries.

There’s a happy ending.

Despite his reliance on drugs and alcohol, his violence, and his general stupidity, Gareth is a peach of a guy.

Women love him.

Men, including a prominent California clergyman, love him.

The only people who don’t love him are the FBI, the Narcotics Division of the Treasury Department, Scotland Yard, and the Condor Group of the Mexican Police.

And me.

P.S. I’m not too fond of Harold Robbins either.

Dreams Die First by Harold Robbins
Simon and Schuster, ©1977. [paper] 408 p.
1977 bestseller #6. My grade: D-

The Deep: Inexperience leads to trouble

Jaws author Peter Benchley returned to the bestseller list in 1976 with The Deep, a more exotic and less frightening novel.

Dust jacket cover of "The Deep" shows sky and sea in dark shades of blue.
A woman in a bikini is in The Deep.

Newly-weds David and Gail Sanders have come to Bermuda to do some diving. Both have done some diving, but neither is experienced enough to know how to keep out of trouble.

On their first dive, they find several items that appear to have come the shipwrecked Goliath, including a small glass ampule containing liquid. No one can—or will—tell them what it might be, but someone claiming to be a glass collector offers them $50 for the ampule.

They won’t sell: They don’t like his attitude.

They seek help from Romer Treece, a local wreck recovery expert with long experience and scant patience with inexperienced know-it-alls like David.

Treece discovers their finds are authentic and dangerous: The cargo on the Goliath is worth millions to the wrong people.

As he did in Jaws, Benchley infuses his thriller with information. Here, through Treece, he talks about everything from the habits of moray eels to 18th century Spanish history and techniques for researching shipwrecks.

And through Treece, Benchley tells know-it-alls like David how to grow up:

A lot of people want to prove something to themselves, and when they do something they think’s impressive, then they’re impressed themselves. The mistake is, what you do isn’t the same as what you are. …

The feeling’s a lot richer when you do something right, when you know something has to be done and you know what you’re doing, and then you do something hairy.

The Deep by Peter Benchley
Doubleday, 1976. 301 p.
1976 bestseller #5. My grade: A-

Storm Warning: heroism where none’s expected

Storm Warning is an implausible and irresistible tale of heroism in unlikely places.

A tattered Nazi flag rises above the words Storm Warning
This flag tops a 3-masted sailing ship, badly battered.

Novelist Jack Higgins weaves together several stories, each worthy of a novel on its own.

The book opens in  Brazil in August, 1944, as Captain Berger’s three-masted German sailing ship, disguised as a Swedish vessel, sets sail for Germany 5,000 miles away.

On board is a crew of 22 men and seven passengers, five of them nuns.

If his wooden vessel survives Atlantic storms, Captain Berger will have to sail along Scotland’s treacherous western coast which, as WWII winds down, is dominated by American and British ships and planes.

In London, American doctor Janet Munro has leave from patching up air raid victims to visit her severely wounded uncle, Rear Admiral Carey Reeve on Fhada Island off Scotland.

Crossing Scotland, Janet and her Navy escort Harry Jago cross paths with Paul Gericke, who had just pulled off a U-Boat attack on Falmouth.

All the characters converge on Fhada Island just as the storm of the century whips up.

Higgins presents a rousing adventure story supported by precisely-drawn characters captured in vivid verbal snapshots.

The story has too many coincidences to withstand scrutiny, but while you are reading, Higgins will make you believe every word.

Storm Warning by Jack Higgins
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976, 311 p.
1976 bestseller #4. My grade: A-

Watership Down is for children of all ages

In Richard Adams’s Watership Down a dozen males bond as they flee unknown danger into certain danger in search of a better life.

The adventurers are all rabbits.

The story opens when Fiver, a clairvoyant runt, senses disaster. He convinces his big brother, Hazel, to warn the warren’s chief rabbit.

Sign says six acres are to be developed into housing.
                 Fiver senses something ominous about this sign.

Hazel’s warning is ignored but the brothers and nine other rabbits leave the warren, ready to risk life in the open until they can find safety away from men.

Their exit is not a day too soon.

The warren is bulldozed to make way for a housing development. Only one rabbit escapes to tell the story.

The rabbits soon realize the habits they learned as kittens won’t work on Watership Down.

They learn to work together drawing on each individual’s strengths, befriend animals with whom they have common enemies, and become masters of strategy.

Adams is marvelously inventive in giving each rabbit the lapine equivalent of a personality and creating a rabbit oral tradition on which readers may eavesdrop.

Watership Down is a real place in England’s Berkshires and the landmarks that figure in the story actually exist.

Map of  Watership Down from the novel
   The map from Watership Down doesn’t photograph well

Adams is equally factual about rabbit habits, drawing on The Private Life of the Rabbit by R. M. Lockley.

Adams’s work ranks with C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and Tokien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, although it differs from them in one significant way: Its characters are all ones we’ve all seen.

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Macmillian, 1972, 429 p.
1974 bestseller #2. My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

‘The Betsy’: Smaller ‘Wheels’, quicker start

Angelo Perino, a retired race car driver, is hired by “Number One,” Loren Hardeman, to design and build a totally new automobile to be called The Betsy after his granddaughter.

Engineer's drawing of sporty car with BETSY on its license plate
Drawing showing the Betsy’s hood.

Although 91 and confined to a wheelchair, Number One is prepared to commit his entire personal and corporate fortune to the project, as is independently wealthy Perino.

There’s a catch: the entire project must be kept secret until the first Betsy rolls off the production line.

Bethlehem Motors, founded in the days of Henry Ford, diversified under Hardeman’s son and grandson. In 1969, CEO “Loren 3” is looking for an opportunity to unload the auto business, keeping only Bethlehem’s more profitable product lines such as washing machines.

The Betsy gets off to a lusty start with the male lead in bed with a auto racing groupie, and keeps up the supercharged sex to the end.

Unlike the whole-industry approach of Arthur Hailey’s Wheels, Harold Robbins’ focus on a single company makes for easier storytelling, although Robbins indulges in frequent and distracting flashbacks.

The main story is mildly interesting, scattered with intriguing bits of information, but it not sufficiently interesting that the dramatic end to the automobile project will be regretted by readers.

The Betsy by Harrold Robbins
Trident Press, ©1971, 502 pages
1971 bestseller #5. My grade: C

Reviewer’s note: the art is from the cover of the First Charnwood Edition of The Betsy, published in 1984 in Great Britain.

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni