Scandals, hypocrisies, and inter-personal tensions at the headquarters of a big-bucks TV preacher—in a competent multi-plot novel that's unexciting in its melodrama, serviceable in its soap opera, and far too preachy (and predictable) in its ironic-expose viewpoint. Rev. John Tinker Meadows, having taken over for his now-senile father, is the centerpiece of the Meadows Center in a small Southern town—home of the Eternal Church of the Believer, complete with TV-Tabernacle, computerized investments, PR machine, etc., etc. The handsome, pious Rev, of course, is secretly sleeping with a married parishioner; the assistant pastor is a repressed sex-maniac who (it becomes clear about halfway through) killed Lindy Owen—an investigative reporter from N.Y. whose body doesn't turn up for a while. Furthermore, the Rev's imperious sister, Reverend Mary Margaret, is a fat neurotic with a father complex; the Church's computer-expert is not only a thief but a seducer of choir-girls; the head of the mailroom is a secret lesbian; and everyone's involved in power-plays, blackmailings, and coverups. Sounds like a trashy TV series? It does indeed. But MacDonald is a solid, classy enough storyteller to maintain steady interest as he sketches in all these subplots—along with the one centered on stockbroker Roy Owen, who's staying at a nearby motel and quietly sleuthing the case of his missing (murdered) wife Lindy. There are intriguing vignettes along the way—like the tense, un-cliched scene between computer-expert/womanizer Rev. Joe Deets and the angry mother of his latest conquest. And MacDonald offers convincing details on the Church's super-technology, including a phone-solicitation program using the synthesized voice of senile Rev. Meadows Sr. (The woman who engineers these programs finally quits in disgust.) Eventually, however, it becomes clear that the various plot-strands aren't going to interweave in a suspenseful way, and that each of the storylines will be given a pat, trite resolution: the murderer commits suicide; Roy finds new love with a quirky local girl; the Church's smarter employees happily quit; the womanizer finds God; and a genuine preacher shows up Rev. John and Rev. Mary Margaret for the hypocrites they are. Without the realism, the tension, or the engaging people of Condominium (1977): a minor MacDonald melodrama, on a far-from-fresh subject (cf. Harold Robbins' Spellbinder, etc.)—but readable enough to attract that big built-in readership.
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