A former People magazine L.A. bureau chief makes a promising commercial debut--with this strange brew of a novel, full of pretty people and wild plot curves. Wilkins' story begins with the disappearance of the richest man in the world, Victor Penn, whose corporate jet goes down off the coast of Mexico just as the feds reveal that the firm has been involved in drugs and international terrorism. A funeral is held--despite the fact that his devastated (and near-destitute) widow, the lovely Valerie Penn, refuses to believe he's dead. Next, Valerie's stow unfolds. As a teen-age piano prodigy in Hollywood, she was discovered by Claude Vilgran, a collector of beautiful things for Victor Penn, then taken to London and trained to be both the perfect wife and pliant sexual object for Penn. A storybook marriage ensued, though when heirs failed to arrive, Valerie was told that the only recourse was in vitro fertilization and a surrogate mother--which resulted in twins, Raymond and Alexandra. Now, ten years later--and after Victor's disappearance--young Raymond vanishes, too, leaving Valerie to imagine that her husband has kidnapped the boy. She'll start a successful business of her own before deciding to get to the bottom of the Penn mystery--which has to do with Valerie's own past (she's a Penn herself); an egg left over from the in vitro fertilization (now another Penn son); and, of course, diabolical Victor, who's been hiding out in Argentina all along. . . The characters are pure cardboard, but the plot has a bizarre brand of panache--which ought to woo readers from the Sidney Sheldon fan club.