The Third Deadly Sin: A twist on”Son of Sam” killer

The Third Deadly Sin is part police procedural, part psychological novel dredging up memories of the “Son of Sam” killings in New York City in the summer of 1976.

Knife blade drips blood into a white rose.
Knife and rose: symbols of purity and murder

Two men have already been murdered when Abner Boone has a chat with retired cop Edward X. Delaney at the suggestion of the acting Deputy Commissioner.

Boone says someone has killed two men at midtown hotels in a month, slitting their throats and mutilating their genitals, before disappearing without a trace.

Delaney agrees to act as an unofficial sounding board for investigators.

Delaney’s wife is active in the feminist movement. Their discussions about women’s roles makes him wonder if the killer could possibly be a woman. His wife unequivocally says that’s impossible.

Statistics show almost no random killers are female.

Delaney still wonders, especially when a third killing shows the time period between murders corresponds to a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Novelist Lawrence Sanders divides his attention between the mousy, back office clerical worker with a sharp Swiss Army Knife and Delaney.

Sanders sets each discussion of the investigation one murder behind what readers know has happened.  That may show how slow police work is, but it’s confusing to readers.

Despite that flaw, The Third Deadly Sin is fascinating reading.

The Third Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders
G. P. Putnam. © 1981.  444 p.
1981 bestseller #8. My grade B+

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

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Goodbye, Janette. Sorry to have read you.

name Harold Robbins in large red type, title smaller, both superimposed on woman’s faceHarold 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.

All that happens in the first third of the novel.

It goes downhill from there.

Don’t even say hello to Goodbye, Janette.

Goodbye, Janette by Harold Robbins
Simon and Schuster. ©1981. 382 p.
1981 bestseller #7. My grade: D-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

An Indecent Obsession

Black and gold type on the cover are symbolic of the fight between good and evil in Colleen McCullough’s An Indecent Obsession
That’s the Australian Commonwealth Military Forces  badge  at the top

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.

Indecent Obsession is an unforgettable story.

An Indecent Obsession
by Colleen McCullough
Harper & Row. ©1981. 317 p.
1981 bestseller #4. My grade: A

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Noble House: Snapshot of an era

Cover shows disk that plays a key role in Noble House
Noble House is a BIG novel.

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.

Noble House by James Clavell
A novel of contemporary Hong Kong
Delacorte Press. ©1981. 1206 p.
1981 bestseller #1. My grade: A-

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Random Winds: Not the usual surgeon story

dust jacket art: Dr. Martin Farrell flanked by his lover in England and wife in New York
Lover and wife on opposite sides of the surgeon

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.

Random Winds by Belva Plain
Delacorte Press ©1980. 496 p.
1980 bestseller #8. My grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

‘Princess Daisy’

From the cover of “Princess Daisy,” a silvery-blonde woman's black eyes hold the reader's eyes.
The princess has captivating eyes.

There’s enough raw material—I use the word raw advisedly—in Princess Daisy for a half dozen novels. Unfortunately, Judith Krantz put all of it in one seemingly interminable, disjointed novel.

“Daisy” Vanesky is the elder of twins. Her father, a Russian Prince, rejected her mentally retarded sister. When their mother dies, he places Dani in an institution in England.

At Vanesky’s death, the twins’ older half-brother, appropriately nicknamed Ram, is left to manage the investments Vanesky’s made on behalf of the twins and his mistress, Anabel de Fourment.

When Anabel learns Ram raped Daisy, she sends Daisy to California to attend college with a friend’s daughter.

The women’s investments fail.

Daisy gets work in production of TV commercials, drawing portraits of children on horses to weekends to earn money to pay for Dani’s care.

The real story of how Daisy becomes “Princess Daisy” is crammed into fewer than 100 pages.

Princess Daisy seems to have dozens of subplots, few of which are actually necessary and most of which aren’t particularly interesting.

At the end of a chapter of Princess Daisy, I’d check to see how many more pages I had to read. The answer was always, too many.

Princess Daisy by Judith Krantz
Crown Publishers. 1st ed. ©1980. 464 p.
1980 bestseller #3. My grade: C-

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

‘Rage of Angels’ could never end happily

Dark red rose drips blood on front dust jacket of “Rage of Angels” by Sidney Sheldon.
Blood drips from the rose.

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.

Rage of Angels by Sidney Sheldon
W. Morrow. 1st ed. ©1980. 504 p.
1980 bestseller #3. My grade: C+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni