The Best Laid Plans

Close-up of woman’s face shows US Capitol reflected in her eyes
Reflection of the US Capitol is visible in the woman’s left eye.

The Best Laid Plans is a dazzling display of Sidney Sheldon’s cinematic flair.

The story is about Leslie Stewart, a PR and marketing genius who is smart, young, sexy, and ambitious, and Oliver Russell, the governor of Kentucky who is young, sexy, ambitious, but not nearly as smart as Leslie.

He’s also a drug addict.

When Oliver comes looking for PR help, he and Leslie become lovers.

Oliver finds a mentor in a Kentucky’s Senator Davis who sees his JFK-like charisma, properly managed, could take him to the White House.

Senator Davis is just the man to do the managing. That means tying Oliver closely to himself.

Leslie has no mentor, but she doesn’t need one. What she doesn’t learn by observation, she learns by doing research. She turns into a Katherine Graham-type power figure.

When Oliver abandons her for the Senator’s daughter, Leslie knows the best way to get back at him is to ruin his political career.

Sheldon’s story has no depth and it has mountains of implausibilities—where does Leslie get her money?—but all the main characters have enough real-world counterparts to keep readers on the edge of their chairs right up to the dramatic ending.

The Best Laid Plans by Sidney Sheldon
William Morrow. ©1997. 358 p.
1997 bestseller #7; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Lincoln: A Novel by Gore Vidal

dust jacket cover is all textGore Vidal’s Lincoln is an absolutely marvelous historical novel, far too good to interest average American readers who propelled North and South to the 1984 bestseller list.

Vidal doesn’t invent stories: He pulls out the stories hidden in historical documents, translates them into contemporary language, and puts them in dramatic context. He lets readers can decode the character and motivation of persons long since dead.

Vidal’s focus is Lincoln’s “White House” years. (During Lincoln’s occupancy, it was called the President’s House.)

The novel opens February, 1861 with president-elect Lincoln’s arrival in Washington, disguised in plain clothes and guarded by detective Allan Pinkerton.

The country has split over slavery.

Several “cotton republics” have already seceded from the Union.

Lincoln’s life has been threatened.

Lincoln has one overriding goal: Maintaining the unity of the states.

Vidal weaves into his narrative contrasting and conflicting impressions of Lincoln held by the people with whom he spent the most time:  His personal staff, his cabinet, and the generals who he is forced to rely on to fight to save the Union.

Vidal’s writing is sparklingly clear and bubbles with humor.

Through the multiplicity of viewpoints, Vidal provides nuanced picture of President Lincoln, the politician.

Lincoln: A Novel by Gore Vidal
Random House 1st ed. 1984. 657 p.
1984 bestseller #10; my grade: A+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

 

Preserve and Protect taut political thriller

Washington DC buildings, 1st edition jacket of Preserve and Protect
First edition cover.

Preserve and Protect is a logical development  of the political landscapes Allen Drury envisioned in Advise and Consent (1959),  A Shade of Difference (1962),  and Capable of Honor (1966).

Allen Drury plunges readers into American politics as it might be played if violence becomes a political tool.

Sometime in the post-LBJ era, Air Force One has crashed, killing an American president on his return to Washington after garnering his party’s nomination.

The Speaker of the House, William Abbott, assumes the presidency until elections can be held. He carries on the policies of his predecessor, Harvey Hudson, keeping American troops in Africa and Panama and retaining Orrin Knox as Secretary of State.

That continuity brings Abbott into direct confrontation with a coalition of extremist groups out to control the presidency by electing Ted Jason, a man they think they can control.

Preserve and Protect is a stronger novel — there’s less author commentary — than the other three novels in Drury’s series.

Readers are left in no doubt as to Drury’s position, but here they have the pleasure of thinking they figured it out themselves.

The characters met in earlier novels seem to have grown more complex, the issues less clear.

The book slips from political novel toward political thriller.

Drury pulls all the threads together skillfully in a shocking — but totally logical — conclusion.


Preserve and Protect by Allen Drury
Doubleday, 1968. 394 pages. 1968 bestseller #6. My grade A-.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Half a Rogue mixes romance, politics and bon mots

Harold MacGrath has the happy facility of producing novels that are better than they have any right to be.

In Half a Rogue, he does unexpected things with a predictable plot while keeping up a steady stream of commentary that makes a reader feel like MacGrath’s chosen confidant.

Times Square 190The New York Times building towering over nearby 4-story buildings as horse-drawn carraiges plod the street.s
                                              Times Square, 1905

Half a Rogue by Harold MacGrath
1907 bestseller # 10. Project Gutenberg ebook #4790. My grade: B.

Richard Warrington, a playwright newly come to fame, becomes close friends with Kate Challone, a young actress who stars in his plays.

When Kate announces she’s to marry Jack Bennington, a man in Dick’s hometown with whom he roomed in college, Dick is delighted.

With Kate leaving the city for Herculaneum, Dick decides he’ll move back home.

Herculaneum society is not happy its biggest employer has married an actress.

It’s also not happy that Jack’s younger sister prefers Dick to the local boys.

And, when Dick is tapped to run for mayor, the corrupt local political machine is not happy.

A private eye is sent to New York to dig up dirt on Dick.

Half a Rogue is a most unromantic romance.

Harold MacGrath has given a true story about fictional people in an imaginary town.

The story ends not with a “happily ever after,” but with a sigh and a terse, “Could have been worse.”

As, indeed, every life might have been.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Coniston exposes power politics at the grassroots

Winston Churchill’s narrator confides right away that Conison is going to have two love stories and revolve mainly around the ungainly figure of Jethro Bass.

That description is like saying Moby Dick is about fishing.


Coniston by Winston Churchill

Florence Scovel Shinn, illus. MacMillan, 1906. 540 p. 1906 bestseller #1.
Project Gutenberg Ebook #3766.
My grade B+.


In New Hampshire in the mid-1800s, uneducated, stuttering Jethro falls hard for Cynthia Ware.

Jethro Bass sits on a porch, hands in pockets, legs crossed,
Jethro Bass is a patient man.

Cynthia returns Jethro’s affection, but deplores his political ambition to rise above his station.

Though they part and marry others, each remains the other’s true love.

After Cynthia’s death, Jethro becomes friend to her husband and “Uncle Jethro” to the daughter with the mother’s name.

Jethro both loves and respects Cynthie, but will he give up his political power for her?

Will Cynthie hold to her principles or bend to win the man she loves?

Churchill works things out in proper romantic fashion, but not before he’s treated readers to a fascinating behind the scenes glimpse into grassroots politics (drawing, no doubt, on his experience as a New Hampshire legislator and candidate for governor.)

In Churchill’s pen, Jethro Bass becomes a figure as distinctive and memorable as any creation by Thomas Hardy or Anthony Trollope.

Coniston fairly begs to become a Masterpiece Theatre presentation.

Until it is (and afterward) read the print version.

It is a gem.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The Last Hurrah still reverberates

The Last Hurrah an engaging story of an engaging man.

A life-long, old-style Irish politician, Frank Skeffington is seeking his fourth term as mayor of the city he loves.

campaign poster  VOTE "Stick with Skeffington"


The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor

Little, Brown, 1956. 427 pages. 1956 bestseller #2. My grade: B.


Nobody can do personal, on-the-pavement campaigning like Frank.

He’s kind, generous, and corrupt.

With all his opponents united behind one political novice, Frank expects a tough campaign, but he expects to win.

Though surrounded by loyal henchmen, Skeffington is lonely. He asks his nephew, Adam, to come with him on various campaign appearances to see how big city politics is played by masters of the game.

Adam gets to see Skeffington at his best and to hear — often from his Uncle’s own lips — stories of him at his worst.

Best of all, he gets to hear Skeffington’s straight-faced double entendres that his uncle’s loyal but dull henchmen don’t understand.

Beneath the marvelous human story, Edwin O’Connor sneaks in some analysis of American politics.

From a critic who admits to finding Skeffington charming, readers learn why people like Skeffington flourished, and why they died out. O’Connor reveals the ugliness so naturally, the novel flows as effortlessly as Irish storytelling.

Easy reading, some laugh-out-loud lines, and historical insights make this novel one you’ll enjoy regardless of your politics.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

Convention Hinges on Database and Daughter-in-Law

Picture of speaker addressing political conventionIn Convention,  veteran Washington reporters Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II take readers behind the scenes to see what happens at a national political convention out of sight of TV cameras.

Unfortunately, what happens out of sight of the TV cameras isn’t much more interesting than what readers see on TV.

Charles B. Manchester, Secretary of the Treasury and heir-apparent to the President, appears to have his party’s nomination sewn up.

Then Manchester utters an off-the-cuff comment at a press conference, which turns everyone with a stake in building a new defense system against him.

Manchester’s honestly believes the new weapon is not needed. He won’t back down, even if it means losing the nomination.

What is interesting from a contemporary perspective is that the plot hinges on use of a secret computer stuffed with data about the convention delegates. That may sound tame, but when Convention was written 50 years ago most people had not heard the term computer and Big Data was still a baby.

Other than that, there’s not much new or interesting in the novel.

I don’t need to tell you that with a little nudge The Great American Electorate will rise up to support The Honest Man.

You’ve seen this plot before, and the characters are as cliché-choked as the plot.

Note to subscribers: I apologize for not posting this review Tuesday as promised.  Apparently I deleted it instead of scheduling it.

Convention
By Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II
Harper & Row, 1964
343 pages
1964 bestseller #10
My grade: B
 
 

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni