Top critical review
"Too many subplots, too many dames."
Reviewed in the United States on October 18, 2019
Charles Raynaud is a snake handler and smuggler operating out of Mexico. He is hired as a bodyguard to protect an old college schoolmate, but soon he finds himself enmeshed in the intricate schemes of a family worth a half billion British pounds. Everybody has a plan to broaden their piece of the pie:
-Richard is about to turn thirty-four and stands to inherit his father's entire empire. He must stay alive, out of prison, and demonstrate to the stodgy board that manages his trust that he can succeed in business. He is busy trying to accomplish that last goal by bribing his way into a lucrative government contract to build the Chunnel.
-Lucienne is Richard's stepmom. She is working with her husband's brother--who also just happens to be a former lover-- to get Richard sent to prison to prevent him taking over the estate.
-Uncle John is Richard's only friend and Lucienne's closest confidant, but he is also a scientist with a love of rare poisons. He has his own secret plans to seize control of the money.
-Lisa Mitchell is not a family member, but this lovely millionaire has been drawn into the web. Is she an accomplice or just another victim?
I really liked these characters, and I enjoyed the basic premise of the plot. The decadent, entitled, rich usually make a compelling noir story. However, this book suffered from numerous problems. The Chicago Tribune summed it best in their review: "too many subplots, too many dames."
This was a 250-page story padded to 400 pages for no discernible reason. A book like this should be fast-paced with every character's motivation established early. Crichton attempted to make everyone mysterious and so kept much of the plot secret far too long. The endless filler scenes of parties, sex, fights, and drinking quickly became repetitive.
I think by the end, the author himself had probably grown bored with the whole thing. When all the secrets are eventually revealed, they really make no sense.
Lucienne has involved Charles and Lisa in order to create a social scandal that will result in Richard going to jail for murder…. Except she doesn't really need a scandal, because she also pushed Richard's company to the brink of bankruptcy in order to provoke him to murder to save his fortune… Except she doesn't really need to harm the business, because she has also arranged to poison Richard with a snake venom that will drive him to a murderous rage with only a slight provocation.
All these machinations, of course, work against each other in the end in what is possibly the most anticlimactic resolution imaginable.
This is the worst of Crichton's books under the John Lange pen name. Check out Binary, Zero Cool, or Odds On instead. Leave this one on the shelf.