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Archive for the ‘Suspense’ Category

cover of Godfather shows puppeteer

Manipulating people is what The Godfather does.

As one of the 32 people in America who hadn’t seen the film version of The Godfather, I was pleasantly surprised that the novel is not just another gory Mafia story.

Mario Puzo’s story is solid: It’s packed with more characters than a casting call, each of them interesting variations on familiar gangster-film types. The characters and fast-paced plot never let attention drag.

The Godfather is Don Vito Corleone, a well-to-do olive oil importer hoping one of his sons will take over the family business, which is a front for a gambling and extortion empire in New York City.

His eldest, Sonny, is keen on taking over, but too impulsive for the job; second son, Fredo, lacks leadership.

Michael, the youngest son, defied his father by entering the Marine Corps, became a hero, left the military for Dartmouth College, where he met an all-American WASP, whom he wishes to marry.

The outside story is about how Mike becomes head of the business and steps into his father’s role as Don.

The underlying story is about the culture people carry with them, a mindset and values that are resistant to geography and time.

The novel is worth rereading in 2017 for that underlying story alone.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo
G. P. Putnam, 1969. 448 p. 1969 bestseller #2. My grade: A.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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runway is central element on dust jacket of AirportI read Airport in two big gulps two days ago.

Tonight I can scarcely remember the plot or the characters’ names, but the details are still vivid.

In Airport, Arthur Hailey weaves together several plots whose characters happen to be in a particular place, just as he did in Hotel.

In this case, the scene is the fictitious Lincoln International Airport in the overnight hours during a blizzard.

The story focuses primarily on Mel Bakersfeld, the airport’s general manager, who has a rocky marriage, a brother whose air controller job is pushing him toward suicide, and an aging airport no longer capable of meeting the demands of aviation in the post-JFK era.

Hailey works in a couple of plots, one quite implausible, to make the point that airports are dangerously inadequate from a safety perspective.

Hailey tackles the stereotypes about pilots and stewardesses with a story line about one such duo for whom Hailey can’t seem to muster much liking.

What Hailey does marvelously, however, is relay the nuts-and-bolts details of the unseen jobs — the maintenance crews, the ticket counter staff, the air traffic controllers — so readers feel like they are looking over their shoulders as they work.

Airport is worth reading just for that.


Airport by Arthur Hailey
Doubleday, 1968. 440 p. 1968 bestseller #1. My grade: B.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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The plot of The Gabriel Hounds is one that Catherine Morland would have loved, had that Jane Austen creation lived in the 1960’s drug culture.

Christy Mansel is on a package tour of the Middle East when she bumps into her second cousin, Charles, who’s on a business trip.


The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart
M. S. Mill Co. 1967, 320 p. 1967 bestseller #9. My grade: B.

Christy and Charles decide to look up their Great Aunt Harriet, an eccentric recluse,  taking separate vehicles.

When her tour group heads home, Christy stays on in Beirut, hires a car and driver and goes to Dar Ibrahim, her great aunt’s crumbling palace in the Lebanon mountains.

Hamid, Christy’s driver, shoulders their way in over the objections of the old Arab porter.

They’re greeted by John Lethman, a young researcher who says he came to Lebanon doing research and Lady Harriet took him into her household.

Christy finds him plausible, given her Aunt Harriet’s fondess for young men.

Hamid sees the signs of a hashish smoker.

Mary Stewart keeps the story moving, with just enough sexual tension between the cousins to make Christy interesting when she’s alone on the page.

Stewart lets Christy talk far more to strangers than any reasonably intelligent young woman alone in a foreign land would do, but most readers will finish the novel before they notice.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Everybody over 40 knows what Rosemary’s Baby is about, just as they know Moby Dick is about a guy hunting a white whale.

creepy Victorian house on*Rosemary's Baby* book jacket

The difference between Ira Levin’s novel and Herman Melville’s is that there’s more to Moby Dick what everybody knows.


Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
Random House, 1967, 245 p. 1967 bestseller # 7. My grade: C.

The story is about Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse, a young couple who move into a New York City apartment house noted for its Victorian architecture, its history of unsavory residents, and its unusually high rate of suicides.

Guy goes to work—he’s an actor who works mainly in commercials —and Rosemary putters at decorating, always with an eye to how the rooms can be rearranged to accommodate a baby.

After the inexplicable suicide of young woman who lived with the older couple next door, Rosemary and Guy get sucked into friendship with them.

Strange things start to happen.

Ira Levin, a master of the art of plotting, keeps the story moving briskly.

Levin doesn’t attempt to flesh out any of the characters beyond their initial descriptions. Nobody in the book learns anything or changes in any way.

The characters are dummies in an all-dummy cast which, in horror novels, may be the proper authorial pose.

Sympathy is wasted on dummies.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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In Greatheart, Ethel M. Dell has created characters readers will care about and eagerly follow, hoping for their happiness.

But, as often happens to Dell, when it’s time to end the story, she doesn’t know how to solve the problem she plotted.


Greatheart by Ethel M. Dell

1918 bestseller #6. Project Gutenberg ebook #13497. My Grade: B.


snow-covered mountains viewed from high above. People are tiny black wrinkles along path through snow.

Trekking through snow.

Greatheart concerns the three Studley siblings, Sir Eustace, Scott, and Isabel.

Since Isabel’s husband’s tragic death on their honeymoon and her subsequent mental and physical decline, the brothers have been trying in their different ways to help her back to health.

At a resort in the Alps, the brothers become acquainted with Dinah Bathurst, a perky English country girl traveling with Colonel and Lady de Vignes as companion to their daughter, Rose.

Scott is drawn to Dinah, but she’s tantalized by his handsome, athletic brother.

However, Eustace’s passionate pursuit of her soon frightens Dinah.

Scott’s attempt to discourage Eustace makes him even more determined to have Dinah.

Isabel comes out of her funk enough to try to protect Dinah, but she dares not protest when Dinah agrees to marry Eustace.

Dell is brilliant at creating suspense, and she makes Dinah’s behavior believable in light of her abusive mother and spineless father.

The only unbelievable element is sexual predator Eustace’s sudden reformation.

Unless, of course, a miracle happened.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Mary Jane Ward’s The Snake Pit is a powerful story about mental illness, as terrifying in a quiet way as anything by Stephen King.

The novel takes readers inside the mind of one mentally ill person, Virginia Cunningham.


The Snake Pit by Mary Jane Ward

Random House, 1946. 278 p. 1946 bestseller #10. My grade: A.


Virginia was living in New York and working on a novel when she began having trouble sleeping.

She recalls saying to her husband “Robert, I think here is something the matter with my head.”

As the novel opens, Virginia doesn’t even know where she is. She thinks she must be in prison doing research for a book, but she isn’t sure.

She wonders if blurred vision is causing her fuzzy thinking, so she asks a nurse for glasses.

“If I’m without them much longer I’ll go crazy,” she says.

When she says crazy out loud, she realizes she has been refusing to acknowledge she is in a mental hospital.

That realization is the beginning of her road back to mental health.

Virginia’s recovery isn’t smooth.

She is given medication, shock treatments, confined in body-temperature baths, moved from ward to ward.

Virginia never knows what caused her problems or why they recede.

She only rarely realizes she is seeing a doctor.

The Snake Pit is a classic. Don’t miss it.

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A stodgy New England writer meets a sultry siren with a screw loose, setting the scene for murder and mayhem in Ben Ames Williams riveting novel Leave Her to Heaven.

Richard Harland meets Ellen Berent in New Mexico where she has come with her mother and sister to scatter her father’s ashes. Richard is fascinated by Ellen but something about her troubles him.

He decides he’ll remain a bachelor.

Ellen has other ideas.

Writing off her finance-lawyer, she maneuvers Richard into marriage, telling him, “I will never let you go.”

Ellen is jealous of Richard’s younger brother, Danny; of her sister, Ruth; of Richard’s friends; of his writing — of anything that takes Richard’s attention from her.

There’s a series of unfortunate accidents.

Danny drowns.

Ellen’s baby is stillborn.

Ellen herself dies of acute gastritis.

About two years later, Richard marries Ruth. They are just home from their honeymoon when Ruth is charged with Ellen’s murder.

To show Ruth’s innocence, her lawyer must show Ellen committed suicide. He puts Richard on the stand and probes the details of his deteriorating relationship with Ellen.

Leave Her to Heaven is well-plotted with keenly-drawn characters. Pristine New England forests provide stark contrast to Ellen’s poisonous malevolence, making this spine-chilling, can’t-put-down reading.

Leave Her to Heaven
By Ben Ames Williams
Houghton Mifflin, 1944
429 pages
1944 bestseller #7
My Grade: A-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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