Silent Night (novel)

broken Christmas ornament
A St. Christopher medal would be more fitting.

Mary Higgins Clark’s Silent Night is the sort of novel that used to be called a diversion.

A doctor with leukemia comes to New York for surgery, accompanied by his wife and two sons. While he’s in the recovery room, Mrs. Dornan takes the boys to Rockefeller Center to distract them and drops her wallet.

Although the wallet contains several hundred dollars in cash, it also contains a St. Christopher medal that the boys’ grandmother told them will keep their father safe. The younger boy, Brian, 7, sees a young woman snatch the wallet and follows her.

The woman, Cally Siddons, arrives home to find her brother, Jimmie, there. He has escaped from prison, shooting a guard in the process. Hot on her heels, Brian arrives demanding his mom’s wallet.

Jimmie appropriates the money and decides to take Brian hostage. He has a stolen car waiting near Cally’s apartment and a girlfriend waiting at the Canadian border. Jimmie bundles Brian into the car and they head north into a nasty winter storm.

If, in the spirit of Christmas, you can overlook the absurdities of the plot, the story will occupy you while you wait for Santa Claus, but Silent Night will never replace A Christmas Carol.

Silent Night by Mary Higgins Clark
Simon and Schuster. ©1995. 154 p.
1995 bestseller #8; my grade: C+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Vanished by Danielle Steel

cameo of child at center of gray and black dust jacket
The child is gagged.

Vanished is a totally atypical, can’t-put-down mystery from the queen of romance novelists, Danielle Steel.

The story is set in 1938 just after Kristallnacht in Germany and while the Lindbergh baby kidnapping was still fresh in American minds.

Marielle Patterson is the devoted mother of four-year-old Teddy, and dutiful wife of multi-millionaire Malcolm Patterson, for whom she had worked briefly as secretary. Both parents adore Teddy and are polite to each other.

Just hours after Marielle had accidentally run into her ex-husband at a church on the anniversary of the accident in which they lost their just-walking son and unborn daughter, Teddy is kidnapped from his bedroom.

Marielle’s ex-husband, Charles Delauney, is charged with kidnapping. Marielle doesn’t believe Charles could be the kidnapper, but all the evidence points to him.

When the case comes to trial, Marielle’s past marriage, divorce, and the mental problems after losing her children are made public. Malcolm blames Marielle for the kidnapping.

Without family or close friends, Marielle comes to rely on an FBI special agent for emotional support through an ugly trial in which the prosecutor tries to make it look as if Marielle is to blame for the kidnapping.

Steel wraps up the story in manner both hopeful and realistic.

Vanished by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1993. 304 p.
1993 bestseller #6; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

All Around the Town

bloody handprint on a curtain on open sliding doorIf you’ve watched television in the last 50 years, you’ve seen pieces of the plot of All Around the Town many times in old movies.

The plot’s container is the tale of Laurie Kenyon, a college student accused of murdering her English professor. Her fingerprints are all over his bedroom.

Laurie was kidnapped at age 4 and sexually abused for two years before the kidnappers abandoned her. When she is arrested for murder, the four personalities she developed to cope with her trauma emerge.

Laurie’s sister, a lawyer, takes on her defense, aided by a handsome, unmarried psychiatrist.

When they abducted Laurie, Bic and Opal Hawkins were tavern entertainers. Laurie’s arrest coincides Bic hitting the big time as a TV evangelist. Using their TV names, Rev. Bobby and Carla Hawkins, they pose as buyers for the Kenyon sisters’ home, which allows them to wiretap it so the reverend can get rid of Laurie if one of her personalities names him as her kidnapper.

Mary Higgins Clark mashes all these implausible elements together, sweetening the mix with even more implausible elements.

In the end, the implausibilities don’t matter. No sensible reader could care about any of these characters. They’ll be relieved at the story’s end when Laurie goes off to play golf.

All Around the Town by Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster. ©1992. 302 p.
1992 bestseller #10; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Night Over Water

aircraft at night over oceanNight Over Water centers around a largely forgotten piece of 20th century aviation history: the luxury aircraft the Flying Clipper, which could land and take off from the ocean.

In Ken Follett’s novel, a few days after Britain declares war on German in 1939, the Clipper takes off on a 30-hour flight to New York. Some of the passengers are trying to avoid the war, others are trying to escape their pasts.

Weather conditions had to be just right for the Clipper. It couldn’t take off or land unless the waves were less than three feet high. Unless stars were visible, the aircraft had no way to navigate and could run out of fuel. Conserving fuel often meant going through storms rather than around them.

The spark for the drama is the presence on the plane of a mobster being returned to America for trial. His gang have kidnapped the pregnant wife of the Clipper’s engineer in order to force her husband to have the plane land in the ocean off Newfoundland where they can rescue him.

Follett’s characters are types familiar to novel readers. It’s the setting that produces the drama. Few writers can milk the drama from an historical setting to entertain and inform as Follett can.

Night Over Water by Ken Follett
William Morrow. ©1991. 400 p.
1991 bestseller #8; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Eagle Has Landed

German SS is central to The Eagle Has Landed.

The Eagle Has Landed is a World War II novel that manages to be both exciting and nuanced.

The novel is about a 1943 German plot to kidnap Winston Churchill in a commando operation, which Himmler thinks might make Hitler happy.

Himmler selects Colonel Max Radl, a terminally ill officer, to coordinate the top secret mission.

By coincidence, a spy living on a remote, unprotected stretch of English coastline reports that Churchill will be staying overnight nearby on November 6.

Radl pulls together an unlikely team led by Kurt Steiner, a German officer in disgrace for helping a Jew, with aid from Irish Republican Army operative Liam Devlin and hindrance from Harvey Preston, a captured English soldier who defected to the SS.

Steiner’s dozen commandos parachute in to join Devlin, who had already secured the necessary equipment for the snatch.

Then things start going wrong.

Novelist Jack Higgins’ characters are puzzling, contradictory personalities, not your typical war novel stereotypes. In fact, the Eagle’s battle-hardened German soldiers are too nice. Joseph Wambaugh’s Choirboys would be more believable. They’d fit in with American Colonel Shafto, who thinks nobody can run a war as well as he.

Despite that highly intriguing flaw, The Eagle lives up to his book jacket blurbs.

The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins
Pocket Books ©1975 [paper] 1st ed. 390 p.
1975 bestseller #6. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Sea-Hawk Grabs and Won’t Let Go

Triple-masted pirate ship at sea with mountains in distance
Pirate Ship at Sea

In the first chapter of The Sea-Hawk, Rafael Sabatini whispers the broad outline of his plot just loudly enough that dedicated novel readers will catch it. Tte foreshadowing barely has time to register before Sabatini plunges his 16th century hero into an adventure that shows off his thoughtful, complicated personality as well as his biceps.

The story starts out in traditional romance fashion.

Sir Oliver Tressilian repaired his family’s fortune by preying on the Spanish Armada. Now he wants to marry  but Rosamond’s brother, Peter Godolphin, doesn’t want her to wed a pirate.

Oliver’s half-brother murders Peter Godolphin, then covers the murder by having  Oliver kidnapped and sold as a galley-slave. Oliver’s disappearance looks like an admission of guilt.

When fighters of the Basha of Algiers take the ship, Oliver turns Muslim. His prowess in attacking ships of Christian nations wins him the name Sakr-el-Bahr, Hawk of the Sea.

Learning Lionel is to marry Rosamond, Oliver seeks revenge. He makes a raid on Cornwall to abduct Lionel.

The raid raises questions about Oliver’s loyalty to Islam. The wrong answer would mean death.

The plot sounds rather Errol Flynn-ish, but there’s no hint of central casting in Sabatini’s characters. They react and develop in psychologically plausible ways.

You need not be fan of nautical thrillers, to enjoy The Sea-Hawk. It is worth reading just for its insights into Islamic culture.

The Sea-Hawk
by Rafael Sabatini
1923 bestseller #10
Project Gutenberg EBook #3294

Photo credit: Pirate Ship at Sea by KBlack

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Prodigal Judge refuses to be a failure

Thrilling adventure, tender romance, pathos and humor combine to give The Prodigal Judge the sweep and cinemagraphic qualities of Gone with the Wind without that novel’s sexiness.

But what it lacks in sexiness, The Prodigal Judge more than makes up for its humanity.

In the opening pages, Vaughan Kester hooks readers with a mystery: why did General Quintart give a home to Hannibal Wayne Hazard yet refuse to ever see the boy?

The novel’s unlikely hero, 60-year-old Judge Slocum Price, a destitute drunk, doesn’t appear until chapter 9. By that time:

  • the General is dead;
  • 10-year-old Hannibal has survived two kidnapping attempts;
  • the lad’s trusted companion, Bob Yancy, has been saved by an English lord from certain death in the waters of the Mississippi;
  • a dastardly villian is plotting a slave uprising; and
  • the lovely Miss Betty Maloy has agreed to marry a man she doesn’t love.

By rights, Kester’s book should be a dismal failure. The book’s premise is far-fetched.  The plot is hopelessly complicated. The characters are an odd lot of rejects from other novels. And yet the whole book works.

The Prodigal Judge is proof a great read need not be a great book.

The Prodigal Judge
By Vaughan Kester
1911 bestseller # 2
Project Gutenberg EBook #5129
 
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni