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Obvious parallels to the career of Nelson Rockefeller will be the primary draw of this long, readable, but slow and predictable soap/melodrama: Start (who died a few years ago) builds his first and only novel around an egomaniacal, sexually unstable governor with an Edifice Complex--though the book suffers from insufficient focus on this demonic Gov himself. We begin in ""The Present"": Gov. Stewart Gansvoort of an unnamed state has been found shot to death--in the reflecting pool of his dream project, the state capital's Mall. And then it's on to a 450-page flashback. The principals in 1940: Stewart, scion of a super-rich oil clan, a fellow with a wild temper and wayward sexual yens (incest, young girls, prostitutes); his lusty sister Serena; and her non-classy teenage lover Gavin Riordan, who will grow up to be the protÉgÉ of Democratic Party boss Daniher (a sometime Gansvoort ally). Just after WW II, however, the interest centers on architect George Barnstable, who (with Riordan in bombed-out Germany) discovers an eight-year-old, much-raped waif in the rubble: Barnstable names her Ericka, passes her off as his niece, and gets her to N.Y.--where she'll be raised by Barnstable's swank sister Melinda. And over the years, while Ericka slowly grows into an artistically gifted beauty, the Gavin/Serena affair will flicker, Melinda will die from food-choking, Gavin will rise as a policeman/lawyer (despite marital misery). And Stewart will get hooked on politics--with help from Daddy's money--while continuing his kinkiness: he introduces wife #1 Olivia to lesbian threesomes; he rapes teen-virgin Nan Kennicott (daughter of an aide), who gets crippled and drug-addicted in the aftermath; and he winds up married to Ericka, who really loves Gavin but must wed Stewart in order to get the Mall commission for her beloved foster-father, architect Barnstable. So: who kills Stewart circa 1980? One of his domestic enemies, or one of the many constituents (blacks, Church-men, etc.) outraged by the Gov's high-handed, self-serving construction mania? Bland mystery, rambling narration, excess coincidence, gratuitous sex, and Gavin's a boring hero--but the Rockefeller links and the backroom dirty-dealings may give this enough shady allure to win a pop-fiction following.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1982
Publisher: Warner