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PARTY OF THE YEAR by John Crosby Kirkus Star



Pub Date: June 29th, 1979
Publisher: Stein & Day

The Crosby wit, sadly swamped by the melodramatic goings-on in his most recent thrillers, is on the rise again: this Manhattan tale--about an elderly ex-CIA man's attempt to protect a twelve-year-old Contessa from ubiquitous terrorists--verges delightfully on the downright facetious. Most of the jollity comes from that creaky ex-CIA agent, unemployed medieval scholar Horatio Cassidy, who--though he's beyond retirement age--is chosen by the well-preserved, coolly salacious Principessa di Castiglione to be bodyguard/tutor for her precocious daughter, Contessa Lucia; the Castigliones may live in Manhattan's top-security hi-rise, but they're still fearful of kidnap by the Red Wind terrorists who nabbed and killed the Principessa's late husband. Cassidy turns out to be a smashing success as a tutor: dour little Lucia is soon completely within his thrall, absorbing his epic lectures (which make no concessions to her age) and also learning the arts of self-protection--judo and marksmanship. But Cassidy doesn't quite make it as a bodyguard. Despite his connections (CIA chiefs, newspaper folk) and despite his resourceful investigations (he exposes the hi-rise superintendent as a Nazi war criminal), the terrorists are lurking everywhere, inside and out the Castiglione household; and when the Principessa insists on throwing her annual Party of the Year in the hi-rise's posh private club, Cassidy and his crew cannot prevent a diabolical bloodbath--though Lucia herself does survive. Contrived melodrama, to be sure, with some farfetched explanations at the close, but it works, especially the moment-by-moment panic of that bloody finale. And, more important, Crosby's tongue is never far from his cheek--as seedily imperious Cassidy scrapes up information; as he's raped (at his age!) by the insatiable Principessa (""Let's fuck, Professor. We can talk later""); as he saturates Lucia in his cynical/noble credo while being humanized by her adoration. Not for the slam-bang audience, then, but rather an eclectic, slightly precious, and sneakily sentimental entertainment--with two spots of dry wit for every drop of spilled blood.