As long as A Woman of Substance (1979)--but without the substance: while Bradford's first novel was a grand, gritty rags-to-riches saga, this new one often reads like the longest Harlequin Romance ever written, with a soapy little teapot-tempest stirred, verbosely, into mastodon melodrama. True, the brief 1979 prologue does grab your interest--as lovely Francesca Avery, a 40-ish historian married to an Averell Harriman-style statesman (named, tackily, Harrison Avery), responds with fury when she hears that her old friend Katherine Tempest is coming to see her. Why does Francesca hate Katherine so much? That's the sturdy hook here. But the 600-page flashback that follows provides the answer (a murky one) with excruciating slowness and stiffness. In 1956, you see, Francesca is an innocent young would-be writer, daughter of the near-impoverished Earl of Langley; her handsome brother Kim adores ambitious American actress Katherine, new toast of the London stage. So, while Francesca and Katharine become best buddies, Francesca falls hard for Victor Mason, ""a world-famous movie star of the first magnitude"" who is directing Katharine in a Wuthering Heights remake--with a screenplay by cynical Nick Latimer, ""America's boy wonder of literature."" It takes over 300 pages, however, for Victor and Francesca to reach soft-core, secret consummation in the South of France. Then both romances collapse: Kim and Katharine part when the Langleys learn that erratic Katharine has been lying about her past; Francesca renounces Victor when Katharine confides that she's going to abort her baby--Victor's! (Implausibly, Katharine still doesn't know about the Francesca/Victor liaison.) And later, in the clumsily sketched-in 1960s, things get even messier: Katharine has a bad marriage, overcomes frigidity in an affair with Nick (whom she betrays), then has another marriage, a nervous breakdown, and a long loony-bin sojourn; Francesca briefly loves Katharine's politician-brother, then comes to hate Katharine--when it turns out that Katharine's pregnancy story was a lie! But, back in 1979, though both Francesca and Nick loathe Katharine, they hear her confession/explanation (a ho-hum muddle), forgive. . . and learn that she's--what else?--terminally ill. At half the length, perhaps, this unconvincing romantic stew might bubble along with mindless energy. Here, however, Bradford stretches it out mercilessly--in wretchedly stilted dialogues (before lunch, during lunch, after lunch) and amateurishly inflated prose. And the key character of Katharine remains a hopeless mish-mash of pseudo-psychology and blatant inconsistency. A big disappointment, then--but the combination of the Bradford byline and that strong opening will ensure a strong commercial showing.