Jacqueline Susann’s Dolores is her best

It’s no oversight that Jacqueline Susann’s Dolores omits the usual disclaimer that any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidence.

Dolores with sunglasses pushed up on her forehead
Sunglasses protect the ex- first lady Dolores Ryan’s privacy.

Title character Dolores Ryan is the widow of a popular U.S. president assassinated in a southern state; details about that assassination are echoed in Dolores as are other society gossip column details about Jack Kennedy.

Susann takes those tidbits, invents a childhood for Dolores, creates a private personality for her, and then proceeds to explore what someone with that personality would do when she suddenly finds herself out of a job as First Lady.

After a discrete year of mourning out of the limelight, Dolores begins trolling for a sex partner with money. When Dolores says money, she means tens of millions.

And she wants those millions attached to someone at the highest rungs of the social ladder.

Can Dolores get what she wants?

Notably for Susann, Dolores is a slender novel, due in no small part to the novelist’s decision to leave the details of Dolores’s sexual encounters to readers’ imaginations.

What’s left isn’t great literature, but it’s a far better piece of fiction than any of her earlier novels.

Jacqueline Susann’s Dolores
William Morrow. ©1976, 201 p.
1976 bestseller #2. My grade: B

The Day of the Jackal: A thriller plus history

Spring, 1963. The OAS, a secret organization of Algerian ex-military, wants Charles de Gaulle killed.

A jackal escapes the hunter's sights
Jackal narrowly escapes

Having failed spectacularly in one attempt to kill de Gaulle, OAS leaders decide to hire a professional assassin, a blond man from England who calls himself Chacal, which is French for jackal.

Chacal wants to operate entirely on his own, with no contact with the OAS except for a telephone number in Paris he can call for information on the security situation.

The OAS set off a rash of thefts across France to raise Chacal’s $500,000 fee, then await developments.

French security officials guess the thefts are to finance another assassination attempt.

They pull in the best detective in France, Claude Lebel, a homicide cop who gets results by deliberate, plodding inquiry and fact checking.

Fredrick Forsyth was a newsman before turning novelist. His knowledge of how government agencies work and his crisp, clear, just-the-facts-m’am prose style makes Day of the Jackal a real page-turner.

Because de Gaulle died of natural causes, readers know who wins, but Forsyth keeps readers up past their bedtime to see the ending.

A bonus is the illumination of European history largely unfamiliar to contemporary readers: France’s conquest of Algeria in the 1830s, her colonial operation there through WWII, and the belief of many Algerians that de Gaulle had promised them French citizenship as a reward for their military service.

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
Viking Press [1971], 380 p.
1971 bestseller #4. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Lure of the Mask doesn’t last

The Lure of the Mask is a novel composed entirely of characters.

Readers must take them as Harold MacGrath drew them; their fascination never makes them believable people.

Lady in fancy evening dress lowers her mask and looks over her shoulder toward the reader.


The Lure of the Mask by Harold MacGrath
Illus. Harrison Fisher and Karl Anderson.
Bobbs-Merrill, 1908, 1908 bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg ebook #22158. My grade: B-.

Italian-born American John Hillard hears a woman singing in classical Italian at 1 a.m. in January. He’s so charmed that he places an ad in The Times asking her to contact him.

She responds. They correspond. The woman refuses to reveal any personal details.

Finally she agrees to meet.

Hillard is blindfolded, brought to a home that seems familiar.

The lady is masked.

Hillard knows no more about her afterward than before.

Unable to locate the woman with whom he is infatuated, Hillard agrees to take his friend Dan Merrihew to Italy, where both can recover from the loss of their loves—or find them again.

They are accompanied by Giovanni, Hillard’s servant, who hopes his 7-year absence will have lessened the interest of the police in arresting him so he can finish the murder he botched earlier.

MacGrath’s complicated story is well-plotted and remains unresolved until the last page.

The Lure will catch and hold you for an entire evening.

You’ll be released untouched at bedtime.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Truxton King battles real villians in fairy-tale setting

Truxton King is the third of George Barr McCutcheon’s novels about Graustark, a tiny East European monarchy.

Graustark’s fairy-tale existence is threatened by forces making their presence felt worldwide at the dawn of the 20th century.

Truxton King talks with 7-year-old Prince Robin, who leads a collie.
Truxton King talks with Prince Robin, heir to the throne of Graustark.

Truxton King by George Barr McCutcheon

Harrison Fisher, illus. Dodd, Mead 1909. 1909 bestseller #3.
Project Gutenberg EBook #14284. My grade: B-.


Graustark’s titular head is 7-year-old orphan Prince Robin. Three regents rule for the Prince.

The task of raising Robin belongs to his father’s American friend John Tullis.

Truxton King stops in Graustark hoping to find romance so he won’t have to settle down to “domestic obsolescence” when he gets back to New York.

King finds romance.

He also uncovers a double conspiracy: One is by malcontents intent on killing the Prince and establishing a socialist state. The other is by exiled “Iron Count” Marlanx to use the Reds’ assassination of the Prince to make himself king of Graustark.

McCutcheon develops his characters only to a level of realism suitable to fairy-tales. He covers that shortcoming by a story replete with secret passages, spies, double crosses, and dark-of-night adventures by the intrepid hero and the less intrepid, but well-informed, travel agent who aids in his escapades.

The novel’s strength is its weakness: Abhorrent topics are treated with a light touch so they don’t seem abhorrent at all.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni