"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Monday, January 31, 2011

Sidney Sheldon's After the Darkness by Sidney Sheldon and Tilly Bagshawe

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Summary: When her husband's hedge fund collapses after his death, his widow is put on trial for fraud. 

Of all the different books I read, my husband was most contemptuous of this one, probably because Sheldon's novels are beach reading at their best.  Sidney Sheldon's After the Darkness was written after his death, but it still is an authentic Sidney Sheldon novel.

Grace Brookstein is left devastated after her husband Lenny Brookstein drowns at sea one afternoon. Lenny was her much older husband, and treated Grace like a princess. Grace's two older sisters (this felt somewhat like King Lear - two older sisters who had everything and a younger naive sister who believes in love and family) are supposed to support her but feel both glee and malice that Grace's perfect life and adoring husband seem to vanish instantly.

Grieving, Grace is stunned when she finds out that her husband's hedge fund is hiding 70 million dollars, causing thousands of families to lose any retirement savings. Grace's penthouse is sold because there's no money coming in and in the final insult, is charged - and later found guilty - of fraud. Grace can't count on her family for support and turns to her husband's business partner John Merrivale and his sexually cruel wife Caroline. It's John who hired the lawyer, John who advised her on what to wear and how to behave and Caroline who informs Grace that she is forbidden from contacting them ever again after she is sent to prison for life. Grace is entirely alone and abandoned.

Again, Sidney Sheldon loves the idea of women in prison, and yes, there is a lesbian aspect to this story.  Grace is beaten up by her cell mates; Grace attempts suicide; Grace becomes a model inmate  - all the elements of my favorite made for TV movie and Sidney Sheldon novel If Tomorrow Comes.

Grace earns the respect of her cellmates and plans her escape in order to get revenge on all the people who have betrayed her and to clear her husband's name - especially the traitor John Merrivale. The FBI has been spending months trying to find the missing 70 million, and has it out for Grace, including a math savant who has childhood sexual trauma and fantasizes about hurting Grace sexually as she confesses to hiding the money. The wacko was an unnecessary element of the plot.  But after Grace escapes, her case lands in the hands of Mitch Connors, a handsome, lazy and lucky New York City cop. Mitch is after Grace, the FBI is after Grace and nobody wants Grace to learn the truth about what really happened.

But Mitch Connors suspects something is up and starts reviewing the case against Grace, painstakingly doing the job that should have been done in the first place. He's the only person who didn't automatically assume that Grace wasn't guilty right away, even through we all know Grace is innocent. The scene where he visits the Merrivales is pure Sidney Sheldon:
"Mrs Caroline?" Cecelia, the Merrivales' housekeeper, knocked nervously on her employers' bedroom door. "Is a gennelman downstairs to see you."
Caroline turned and glared. Naked from the waist up, with a thick white layer of cream on her face, she looked like a Maori warrior minus the tattoos. "Do I look like I'm ready to receive guests?"
Cecelia tried to avert her gaze from her boss' nipples, large and dark and repellent, like two rotting mushrooms.
Grace's daring prison escape panics nearly everyone who knew the Brooksteins. What will Grace uncover? Will she find out about the affair her sister had with Lenny? Will she find out about the embezzlement? Will she find out about the lies Merrivale has been feeding the FBI? Will she find out who killed Lenny? But nothing is sexier than a woman seeking revenge, and this novel hits this on many levels.

Grace also is aided by a mysterious benefactor once she is on the outside. Who is this person who can just send Grace fake IDs and cash when she requests it through e-mail? And does so? It was a loose end I wanted tied up.

The ending is NOT surprising (yes, what you're thinking is correct) but this book offers light escapism with hints of darkness - a classic Sidney Sheldon, but nothing exceptional. 

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