THE VENERABLE BEAD by Richard Condon


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Galloping satire whose hairpin turns can be followed only by God (the Bible) and Condon (The Manchurian Candidate, etc. etc.), and one of those may still be in the dark. Condon veterans will brace themselves for the same gaudy density of higgledy-piggledly jokery that filled 1991's The Final Addiction--but this time Condon outdoes himself. Set in the early 70's, the novel finds the Commie menace in full bloom. Any theme laid bare by the book's readers, however, may well suddenly be swallowed like oyster meat by another theme. One leading theme is about polymorphous human appearances, a subject that at last gets so complicated that one loses track of which physical body the heroine is wearing--as does her lover, who also wears a series of bodies. A second theme is about immortality, or the extension of human life by way of a secret Albanian yogurt formula passed on to the hero, Joseph Reynard, by his departed 134-year-old great-grandfather (Joseph himself was sired by an 80-year-old father). Will Joseph and his beloved Leila Aluja--an Iraqi-American superspy for the Sino-Albanian spymaster Josef Shqitonja (really Joe Reynard himself)--get out of the spy business and become billionaires with this fast-food recipe? Quite possibly, since Leila owns The Venerable Bead--a huge, legendary ruby whose bearer is fated to have faultless good luck and great power. A third theme involves the corruptions of celebrityhood and the media, with Leila transformed into rock superstar Meine Edelfrau (""Ma Donna"" in Albanian), and a fourth is about gun control and arms dealing. Hey, Joe wonders, won't a geriatric world population quintupled by long-life yogurt overburden the planet with ghastly survival problems? Condon smiles, nodding. Betrayal of love and trust leads to a repeat ending of Prizzi's Honor that's even wilder than the original.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0312312776
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: St. Martin's