Harold Robbins’ 1981 bestseller Goodbye, Janette is a new low for a writer I thought couldn’t get any worse.
The book opens as the Allies are about to take over occupied France. A French collaborator named Maurice and a German general are preparing to escape separately.
They have put Jewish companies they operated during the war in the name of the beautiful Polish woman the General rescued from the concentration camps.
By convincing his uncle that he worked undercover for the Allies, Maurice will assure he inherits the title Marquis be Beauville. Then he’ll marry Tanya, giving her and her daughter, Janette, French citizenship. The General will join his family in South America.
When life returns to normal, all parties will profit.
That might have become a good novel.
Robbins turns it into a visual encyclopedia of sexual perversions.
After literally taking a whipping from Maurice, Tanya outsmarts him. They remain married, live more or less under the same roof.
Tanya isn’t aware that Maurice has started molesting Janette until she becomes pregnant after a week of being raped and beaten by Maurice and his male lover.
Colleen McCullough’s novel An Indecent Obsession is emotionally raw tale told with restraint and respect.
The story begins as World War II is about to end for men in Australian military hospital “troppo” ward who broke under the stresses of jungle warfare.
Nurse Honour Lantry has just five men left in ward X: Neil, their leader, whom Honour thinks she might like to know better post-war; blind Matt; hypochondriac Nugget; sadistic Luce Daggett, who scares her; and severely withdrawn Ben Maynard, the only one Honour thinks really belongs in a mental hospital.
The men call her “Sis.”
All except Luce respect and adore her.
The group’s dynamic is upset when Sergeant Michael Wilson appears at the ward. Compared to the others, Mike is obviously normal.
Honour can’t figure him out. His paperwork says he had a violent crisis; he says he tried to kill a man.
Honour, having served in the field for the entire war, is emotionally exhausted. She allows herself to feel unprofessional interest in Mike, which provokes a crisis.
McCullough relates the story from Honour’s perspective but with a degree of distance that refuses to let Honour be exonerated when she misinterprets what her senses perceive.
In Noble House, James Clavell updates the story of Straun’s Hong Kong trading company—the Noble House— whose 19th century founding was the topic of his earlier bestseller Tai-Pan.
Ian Dunross becomes tai-pan—head—of the company in 1960 determined to turn it into an international rather than an Asian company.
From the start, he’s hampered by bad decisions of former tai-pans and a century-old rivalry with another trading company run by Quillan Gornt.
Dunross hopes to repair his fortunes by a joint venture with an American company.
Par-Con Industries’ CEO, Lincoln Bartlett, arrives accompanied by his negotiator “Mr. K. C. Tcholok” who turns out to be a very attractive young woman whose expectation of being treated as a professional offends both men and women in Hong Kong.
Clavell keeps at least a half dozen different stories running at the same time, enabling him to show how people in various strata of Hong Kong society live.
Much of Noble House is very much a product of its time. There are many references to spies and scandals of the ’60s, French and American involvement in Vietnam, drug trafficking, and Russian-Chinese rivalries.
At 1,206 pages Noble House is not a novel for weaklings, but it’s well worth reading.
Random Winds begins in the manner of an A. J. Cronin story of a poor boy who becomes a brilliant surgeon.
But nothing I’ve come across in the 20th century’s bestsellers is anything like Belva Plain’s Random Winds.
The liner notes describe the novel as a saga about three generations of doctors, but the story is really about just one of them, Martin Farrell.
There’s the usual faithful wife and alluring temptress, the surgeons clawing for preeminence, the wealth industrialist who comes comes to the rescue with funds for the surgeon’s pet project; those are required in novels about MDs.
Readers see everything in the novel through Martin’s eyes.
Martin is smart, hard-working, principled, essentially decent.
But he also takes everything he sees at face value.
Random Winds is compelling because Martin learns repeatedly that outside the operating room the evidence of his eyes and ears isn’t always true.
It’s not until his daughter, whom he thought would take over his scalpel, chooses a different specialty that Martin realizes what had actually happened in the episodes that were turning points in his life.
Plain’s characters learn and grow so that when they meet after a passage of time they can forgive what they cannot forget.
In chapter one of Rage of Angels, after “interminable years of law school,” 24-year-old Jennifer Parker on her first day on the staff of the Manhattan District Attorney does something totally implausible for which she faces disbarment and even prison.
If you can get past that first chapter, the rest of Sidney Sheldon’s novel Rage of Angels is not bad. (Its shortcomings probably are less glaring in the 1983 TV miniseries.)
Jennifer is so in love with the idea of being a lawyer that she is persistent, hard-working, and willing to learn from her courtroom mistakes.
She’s not so good at learning from her bedroom mistakes.
Jennifer is infatuated first by lawyer Adam Warner, who keeps her from being disbarred.
She has a child by Adam, but she never tells him about Joshua for fear of ruining Adam’s presidential bid.
Later she becomes infatuated by Michael Moretti, a Mafia boss whose business operations are very badly hurt by Adam’s anti-corruption schemes.
Jennifer makes a mess of her personal life and refuses to take personal responsibility for the consequences.
Fortunately, Sheldon avoids the amateur writers’ mistake of pasting a happy ending on a story that couldn’t possibly have a happy ending.