THIS ENTERTAINING, very populous novel chronicles one season in the narrow strip of wall-to-wall money along the Pacific coast that every summer attracts well-heeled climbers from many walks of life. As is customary in books of this sort, numerous lives intersect on the beaches, tennis courts, and dance floors, and most of their troubles come to crisis in a brief space of time. The story line jumps from rocky marriage to political scandal to slipping career to incurable disease as Murray follows a group of neighbors -- one can't really call these self-absorbed people friends -- as they and their problems ricochet off one another. Much to Murray's credit, however, the resulting tale is not more sordid or melodramatic than life, and the people and situations are recognizably and sometimes genuinely human.

He seems particularly good at depicting disappointment, people whose lives haven't turned out as they had been led to expect. And his characters are real enough that some of them can salvage something of value, even if it's not what they had wanted, and start again. There's an affecting portrait of a doctor who must watch helplessly as his best friend succumbs to cancer; a canny old cat of a real estate lady, cashing in on the speculative boom, who will ring true for many Washingtonians; and a host of other Hollywood, LA, East Coast, media and Mafia types too numerous to mention. Altogether a good read, rather better written and more intelligently conceived than many of this genre, and set in a golden, sunny land that's fun to visit, if only vicariously, when north winds blow.