It may conclude in 1992, but Sheldon's latest is sheer 80's excess--the compulsively readable, sin-laden saga of a tycooness who's part Donald Trump, part Leona Helmsley. Though Sheldon's recent heroines (Memories of Midnight, etc.) have been sexy saints, his earlier leading ladies had a crueler edge--just like young Canadian Lard Cameron here, who in a series of canny real-estate deals uses her body as well as her wits to climb out of backwater poverty. With $3 million in her pocket, Lara moves to Chicago, multiplies her fortune, and, in 1984, takes on N.Y.C. There, even as she puts up a Monopoly board's worth of hotels and office buildings, including the world's tallest; battles sexism in the industry: and proves wildly generous to her employees, Lara reveals a darker side--slapping one worker; drugging prospective investors with Valium; harassing tenants by turning their building into a de facto homeless shelter; bedding mob lawyer Paul Martin. Is Sheldon depicting the evolution of a monster? Not at all--for outweighing these flaws, he hammers home, are Lara's ""independence and courage, her talent and vision and generosity."" And her loneliness, dispelled by marriage to star pianist Philip Adler, the perfect icing on Lara's cake. So where's the drama? It comes in spades in the late 80's, as the market crashes: Lara's fortune dwindles; her ex-secretary writes a tell-all book; and the law starts poking into the casino that Lara set up with Paul Martin's crooked help, and into the attack by a thug--hired by a jealous Lara?--who cut Philip's wrist and career. Can it be that, like another hotel queen, Lara will end up wearing stripes? Don't bet on it. Savvy Sheldon knows that nothing becomes the rich and famous like a little scandal, and that a faux-morality tale like Lara's needs an upbeat ending to play big--as this one will, right to the top.