With his usual lightning pacing, Sheldon whisks readers through the story of real-estate tycoon Lara Cameron as she claws her way to the top. Fleeing Nova Scotia and the memories of her lowly roots and drunken father, Lara builds an empire in Chicago and New York that is based on snap decisions and gutsy gambles. But with only the platonic friendship of her financial adviser and a passionate but shallow liaison with a married Mafia boss, it's lonely in the penthouse until Lara meets concert pianist Philip Adler. As Lara's love life takes off, however, her career starts being sabotaged. Setting them in just enough romantic locales, Sheldon weaves just enough of the details of power-brokering and the lives of the rich and famous into the tight plot to ground but not slow the action. His latest racy read will be a Literary Guild Main Selection and a serial in "Cosmopolitan", so expect the usual clamor for it.
It may conclude in 1992, but Sheldon's latest is sheer 80's excessthe compulsively readable, sin-laden saga of a tycooness who's part Donald Trump, part Leona Helmsley. Though Sheldon's recent heroines (Memories of Midnight, etc.) have been sexy saints, his earlier leading ladies had a crueler edgejust like young Canadian Lara Cameron here, who in a series of canny real-estate deals uses her body as well as her wits to climb out of backwater poverty. With $3 million in her pocket, Lara moves to Chicago, multiplies her fortune, and, in 1984, takes on N.Y.C. There, even as she puts up a Monopoly board's worth of hotels and office buildings, including the world's tallest; battles sexism in the industry; and proves wildly generous to her employees, Lara reveals a darker sideslapping one worker; drugging prospective investors with Valium; harassing tenants by turning their building into a de facto homeless shelter; bedding mob lawyer Paul Martin. Is Sheldon depicting the evolution of a monster? Not at allfor outweighing these flaws, he hammers home, are Lara's "independence and courage, her talent and vision and generosity." And her loneliness, dispelled by marriage to star pianist Philip Adler, the perfect icing on Lara's cake. So where's the drama? It comes in spades in the late 80's, as the market crashes: Lara's fortune dwindles; her ex-secretary writes a tell- all book; and the law starts poking into the casino that Lara set up with Paul Martin's crooked help, and into the attack by a thughired by a jealous Lara?who cut Philip's wrist and career. Can it be that, like another hotel queen, Lara will end up wearing stripes? Don't bet on it. SavvySheldon knows that nothing becomes the rich and famous like a little scandal, and that a faux-morality tale like Lara's needs an upbeat ending to play bigas this one will, right to the top. (Literary Guild Dual Selection for November)