A giant gemstone drives men mad.
Lonny Cushman, American ex-pat running as far as he can from his overbearing father, a Manhattan gem dealer, and from an upcoming custody battle with his bitchy ex-wife, drifts to the impoverished but weirdly fascinating land of Madagascar, where even garbage has value, though human life is cheap. How low can a man go? The neighborhood she-goat is looking good, but Lonny avoids sexual temptation of any kind, fearing AIDS and emotional involvement. He travels north, where sapphires have been discovered by desperate peasants, and is offered an extraordinary treasure: an enormous, flawless sapphire. Bonus: the uncut crystal contains a perfect star deep within its matchless blue depths. Paying US$20,000 (the equivalent of a herd of much-prized zebu to the sapphire’s finder, who is ignorant of its true worth), Lonny heads back to the seamy port city of Diego-Suarez, knowing he can’t leave the island without being searched. Maybe ebony-skinned Malika, a CIA op ostensibly with the American embassy, will help him. (Her designer short-shorts and high heels are a big improvement over the she-goat.) Malika is willing to share his bed but balks at anything else. Suddenly, thuggish army officers seem to know all about the sapphire—though Lonny has said not a word. But this is Madagascar, land of mud, misery, and mysterious mayhem, where trees have ears, etc. Thanks to a fisherman, Lonny eventually sneaks off to Cape Town and a rendezvous with an Arab sheik, descendant of a Zanzibar sultan, who buys the gem for a hundred million dollars, convinced that it’s the legendary sapphire known as the Vision, which inspired prophecies and wondrous dreams. Hey, maybe that’s why Lonny’s been able to telegraph the plot all along!
This first from Robinson, a globetrotter and former gem dealer, has all the makings of an old-style Ripping Yarn—but the amateurish prose clunk-clunk-clunks.