James Redfield’s novel The Celestine Prophesy: An Adventure, which captured third place on the 1994 bestseller list, came in at sixth place on the 1995 list. Click here for my review.
James Redfield’s novel The Celestine Prophesy is quasi-spiritual book about an American who goes to Peru where a 600 B.C. Mayan manuscript written in Aramaic has been found showing how to achieve peace on earth in the third millennium A.D.
The Catholic Church is trying to confiscate all translations of the 10 chapters of the text, which it considers to be heresy. “This document makes it sound as though humans are in control,” a Catholic cardinal says.
The unnamed man must try to avoid being caught with pieces of the text, which he does mainly by getting in a truck and going someplace else.
The book predicts that people will “vibrate at a new level” and “consciously engage evolution” until, in the 21st century, humans will voluntarily reduce their population, intentionally let forests grow uncut, and “the means of survival—foodstuffs and clothing and transportation—will be totally automated and at everyone’s disposal.”
At the end of his adventure—which is about as exciting as a trip to the bathroom—the man goes back to America, presumably taking with him insights he has learned:
“Live one millennium at a time.”
“Breathe in energy.”
“Consciously engage evolution.”
“Onward and upward!”
The Celestine Prophesy: An Adventure
by James Redfield
Warner Books. ©1993. 246 p.
1994 bestseller #3; my grade: C-
©2020 Linda G. Aragoni
The Bourne Supremacy is Robert Ludlum’s sequel to his 1980 bestseller The Bourne Identity.
Here David Webb is pulled from university teaching to return to being Jason Webb, an assassin working for the U.S. government.
The U.S. government secures Webb’s cooperation by kidnapping his wife.
While Webb has been recovering from the physical and mental trauma of his former life, someone in the Far East hired an assassin to impersonate him.
Highly placed American diplomats fear assassinations of highly-placed individuals will trigger an invasion of Hong Kong by mainland China, disrupting economies worldwide.
Most of the novel’s action takes place in Hong Kong’s crowded streets and back alleys, where men change their allegiance for a $20 bill.
Readers need to pay close attention as Ludlum constructs stories within stories.
In the Orient — and in American political life — things are often not what they seem and it’s assumed that every assertion is a lie.
While Ludnum’s characters are not, one hopes, the sort of folk readers rub shoulders with every day, they are believable in their context.
It’s not necessary to read Ludlum’s 1980 and 1986 bestsellers as a set—Ludlum’s too good a writer for that—but doing so gives The Bourne Supremacy greater impact.
The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum
Random House, ©1986. 597 p.
1986 bestseller #4; my grade: B+
©2019 Linda G. Aragoni
Michael Cordelone, exiled to Sicily at the end of Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather, is about to return to the US at the beginning of The Sicilian.
His father has ordered Michael to bring Salvatore “Turi” Guiliano to America with him.
Turi has been a bandit in the Robin Hood tradition since his teens. He is idolized by the poor for his opposition those who keep them poor: the government in Rome, the Mafia, the Catholic Church hierarchy, the police.
For seven years, Turi and his band have lived in the mountains, from which they raid and escape. Now Turi’s enemies seem to be joining forces against him.
Why does his father want Michael to help Turi?
How are the police and army getting information about Turi’s movements?
Can Michael get Turi out of the country before his enemies kill him?
Turi and the other characters are about as plausible as paper dolls.
There are a few tidbits of interesting Italian history in The Sicilian but the story is a bore.
The Sicilian: a novel by Mario Puzo
Linden Press/Simon & Schuster. 1984. 410 p.
1984 bestseller #3. My grade: B-
©2019 Linda G. Aragoni
Louis L’Amour’s western adventure The Lonesome Gods is as irresistible as it is implausible.
When readers meet the novel’s hero, Johannes Verne is six years old. His dying father is taking him to California to his only other living relative.
Johannes remembers overhearing his parents say his grandfather hates him. Before he gets to California, he learns that his grandfather hates him enough to leave him to die alone in the desert.
Fortunately, good people take to Johannes instinctively. He’s nurtured by people who have common sense, extensive contacts, wide reading, and loyalty.
At 20, Johannes is a mid-twentieth century silver screen western hero plunked down in 1840s California.
L’Amour lets Johannes narrate the episodes in which he appears and an omniscient narrator relate the others. This technique gives an unwarranted aura of objectivity to implausible people and events.
There’s more than a whiff of Horatio Alger about The Lonesome Gods. Johannes’ friends impress on him the value of education, the importance of knowing how to do business regardless of one’s job, the need to have a goal for what he wants to become as well as for what he wants to do.
L’Amour’s story is forgettable; the advice in it worth remembering.
The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour
Bantam Books. 1983. 450 p.
1983 bestseller #10. My grade: B
©2019 Linda G. Aragoni
For most of its length, Jean M. Auel’s The Valley of Horses* is two stories about prehistoric Europe.
In the first story, a young woman who has been turned out of her adoptive home finds an unoccupied cave in a remote valley.
Ayla is tall, blonde, and beautiful, a skilled hunter, healer, and toolmaker.
She tames a wild colt and a great lion cub, but she’d rather have a human mate.
Meanwhile, 1,000 miles away, two human brothers are setting out to explore.
Their journey takes them to a riverside village where Thonolan meets and loses the love of his life.
Despondent, Thonolan packs to leave. Jondalar, fearing for his brother’s mental state, accompanies him, though he’d rather go back home.
After losing their boat and belongings, the brothers end up in the mountains where Thonolan is killed by Ayla’s lion and Jondalar—Did I mention he’s a gorgeous hunk?— is rescued by Ayla.
Valley is full of fascinating, esoteric information about prehistoric life, but Auel’s depictions of primitive men’s use of language is ludicrous. In one paragraph, strangers are bewildered by each other’s grunts; five sentences later they’re discussing fluid dynamics like engineers in a graduate seminar.
I’ve heard more plausible prehistoric male communication up the street at Bob’s Diner.
The Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel
Crown. ©1982. 502 p.
1982 bestseller #6. My grade: C
*The Valley of Horses is the second novel in Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children™ series (The Clan of the Cave Bear was the first) and the only one of the series to make the 20th century’s bestsellers list.
© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni
Memories of Another Day is less awful than many of Harold Robbins’s bestsellers.
The story is told in sections alternating between “now” and “memories of another day.”
The memories are better than now.
The story is about Daniel Boone Huggins, a West Virginia hill country kid growing up dirt-poor in the early 1900s.
His father isn’t savvy enough to sell his moonshine for what it’s worth. The family needs cash.
Dan is sent off to find work. He ends up in a coal mine.
Dan’s sister, who had married a union organizer, is killed along with him.
Dan leaves West Virginia a confirmed union man.
Dan is a typical Robbins hero. Smart and incorruptible, he’s a hard-drinking stud, pursued by every woman who sees him.
He has a son, Daniel Jr., by one wife, and another, Jonathan, by a second wife who is younger than Dan Jr.
After Dan Sr. dies, Jonathan, 17, full of adolescent rebellion against his father, inexplicably goes off to find his father’s roots.
The memories of Big Dan’s labor union organizing experiences are riveting.
The tale of Jonathan’s getting in touch with his father’s legacy is absurd.
Memories of Another Day by Harold ROBBINS
Simon and Schuster, ©1979. 491 p.
1979 bestseller #04 My grade: B
Robert Ludlum’s The Matarese Circle is an edge-of-the-seat thriller that will hold your attention to the final full stop.
The lead characters are an American spy, Brandon Scofield, and his Soviet counterpart, Vasili Taleniekov.
The two are deadly enemies. Scofield holds Taleniekov responsible for his wife’s death; Taleniekov blames Scofield for killing his brother in retaliation.
When the Russian stumbles upon a secret organization that’s financing terrorists around the world, he can’t discern the Matarese’s motive, but he knows the Matarese must be stopped.
To stop them, Taleniekov has to get Scofield to work with him.
Both men are the best in their respective nations’ intelligence communities.
Both are considered mavericks.
Both are tired.
Both are beginning to doubt that their lives’ work has made any difference.
Once they agree to cooperate, the pair go to Corsica where the Matarese is legendary but never spoken of to outsiders and not often mentioned among Corsicans.
Whispers suggest the organization dates from the eleventh century.
Intelligence services know the Matarese provided assassins for hire until the 1930s.
No one knows what they are doing in the 1970s
Ludlum spins a good yarn.
The unlikely collaborators deal the Matarese a death blow.
Or do they?
The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum
R. Marek Publishers, ©1979. 601 p.
1979 bestseller #01 My grade: B+
©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni
Dreams Die First is another of Harold Robbins’ raunchy tales about sex to fit all tastes.
The story is about Gareth Brendan, Vietnam vet, doing nothing rather unsuccessfully in California when his rich, powerful uncle offers him control of an underground newspaper.
Gareth had tried writing: No one would buy his stuff.
Now his unemployment has run out.
He takes the offer.
Gareth finds he has an aptitude for sleaze.
He goes from the newspaper, to a magazine called Macho which features the “supercunt of the month.”
From there he expands into “Lifestyle” publications and clubs not just for men interested in women.
He’s about to take his company public (I inadvertently typed pubic instead of public. I’ve been reading too much Robbins.) when the operation falls apart.
There’s a happy ending.
Despite his reliance on drugs and alcohol, his violence, and his general stupidity, Gareth is a peach of a guy.
Women love him.
Men, including a prominent California clergyman, love him.
The only people who don’t love him are the FBI, the Narcotics Division of the Treasury Department, Scotland Yard, and the Condor Group of the Mexican Police.
P.S. I’m not too fond of Harold Robbins either.
Dreams Die First by Harold Robbins
Simon and Schuster, ©1977. [paper] 408 p.
1977 bestseller #6. My grade: D-
Jaws author Peter Benchley returned to the bestseller list in 1976 with The Deep, a more exotic and less frightening novel.
Newly-weds David and Gail Sanders have come to Bermuda to do some diving. Both have done some diving, but neither is experienced enough to know how to keep out of trouble.
On their first dive, they find several items that appear to have come the shipwrecked Goliath, including a small glass ampule containing liquid. No one can—or will—tell them what it might be, but someone claiming to be a glass collector offers them $50 for the ampule.
They won’t sell: They don’t like his attitude.
They seek help from Romer Treece, a local wreck recovery expert with long experience and scant patience with inexperienced know-it-alls like David.
Treece discovers their finds are authentic and dangerous: The cargo on the Goliath is worth millions to the wrong people.
As he did in Jaws, Benchley infuses his thriller with information. Here, through Treece, he talks about everything from the habits of moray eels to 18th century Spanish history and techniques for researching shipwrecks.
And through Treece, Benchley tells know-it-alls like David how to grow up:
A lot of people want to prove something to themselves, and when they do something they think’s impressive, then they’re impressed themselves. The mistake is, what you do isn’t the same as what you are. …
The feeling’s a lot richer when you do something right, when you know something has to be done and you know what you’re doing, and then you do something hairy.