On her 12th birthday, Jean Spano, wealthy prodigy and heroine of "The Entwining," receives as a gift the first installment of the passionate and voluminous diaries of her dead mother. In the first and succeeding volumes, the mother sets out through a series of disclosures and exhortations, to steep Jean in the history of the Women's Movement and instruct her on how to use her vast mental prowess and money to achieve power in the United States.
The dead mother wields an almost obsessive influence, which a live one could never hope to achieve. "Control your life," the mother writes. "This never ends. Waking or asleep . . . Never trust men." Jean adopts the diaries as her bible.
In this novel of murder, passion and political intrigue, Richard Condon, author of "The Manchurian Candidate," traces the rise of Jean Spano from student to Wall Street lawyer to deputy commissioner of the New York City police. She becomes U.S. attorney general. Will she be nominated for vice president?
Along the way we meet a collection of fascinating characters. There's Charles Cantwell, her cool, elegant guardian, a brilliant attorney and probably romantically linked to the dead mother. There's a certain New York City police lieutenant, the ape-like antithesis of everything in which Spano believes, who nonetheless beds her in cheap motels, secretly despises her aloofness and plots revenge. We also encounter a Strangelove-like representative of a militant feminist group dedicated, she says, to assassinating males in power.
The book's only fault is that it jerks to a start, but almost immediately the narrative assumes a powerful baroque pattern full of twists and turns. "The Entwining" builds to a climax of death and personal revelation. Managing to rise above the story of Jean Spano and eluding the pitfalls of faddist feminist rhetoric, it finally makes a strong political and humanist statement on women's rights and the Equal Rights Amendment.
While Jean Spano faces an uphill fight because of gender, Joshua Bigg, the hero of Lawrence Sander's "The Tenth Commandment" has a problem getting taken seriously as a result of his height. The ironically named Mr. Bigg is 5 feet 3 3/8 inches tall. Until now he's been the butt of jokes and a second choice with the ladies.
But Bigg has a likable, accepting attitude about the whole thing, and after a long stint as mailboy in the Manhattan law firm of Tabatchnick, Orsini, Reilly & Teitelbaum (TORT), he's been promoted to chief investigator, which in this case is also only investigator. He's smart but inexperienced, and he's about to be plunged into not one but two baffling cases.
First, there's the suicide of one of the firm's clients, or at least the police say it's suicide. Then again, what kind of mystery would this be if the police didn't say suicide? But when a private eye who's been calling Bigg to sell information about the will is located underneath a subway train, and when the private eye's widow meets a grisly fate of her own, the suicide theory appears less and less likely to Bigg, even though the police, acting with typical blindness, have closed the case.
Meanwhile, Bigg is called upon to investigate the disappearance of another client, a rich cantankerous professor who, in the grand genre tradition, is hated by everybody. The will is missing. Bigg discovers some shocking medical reports which were drawn up just before the disappearance.
In between bouts of lovesickness for TORT's pulchritudinous receptionist, who is angling for an expensive sweater, and a developing relationship with a willowy librarian, Bigg discovers a strange link between the cases, but that's as far as I'm allowed to go.
Sanders, who delighted readers with "The First Deadly Sin," "The Second Deadly Sin" and "The Sixth Commandment," has done it again. The situation Bigg has involved himself in may have been precisely the sort of thing which compliance with the original 10th Commandment, "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Wife" was supposed to avoid.
Allied with a sleek and tough but compassionate homicide cop named Stilton, Bigg moves through a classic mystery landscape populated with resentful family, eccentric servants and a society wife who formerly occupied one of the oldest professions. Bigg, in a skillfully woven plot which had me reading late into the night, pulls off some handy scams of his own to wrap up the case. Joshua Bigg is the kind of investigator I hope we hear from again.