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The ""innocent millionaire"" is young Mark Niven--whose lifelong quest for buried treasure generates adventure, sex, love, vast wealth, and highly engaging storytelling. . .until everything (including the increasingly contrived, heavy-handed novel) turns sour. Son of a struggling, wandering actor, U.S.-born Mark grows up entirely in Europe, getting a so-near-and-yet-so-far look at life's freer things: art, luxury, elegance. So, especially after his parents' divorce, teenager Mark buries himself in fantasies of finding the treasure-laden ship Flora, which went down in the great hurricane of 1820, somewhere in the northwestern Bahamas. (""People are monsters and I'd better get rich or I'll have to depend on monsters."") In fact, until age 18, despite his father's sarcastic opposition, Mark spends nearly all his time in Europe's maritime archives. And at 19, after a disastrous stint at Columbia circa 1968 (anti-war activism, expulsion), the young draft dodger finally persuades his father (now somewhat wealthy) to fund an excursion to the Bahamas. Will Mark find the priceless Flora treasure? Of course. First, however, he'll be sidetracked by a feverish, briefly idyllic affair with gorgeous Marianne Hardwick, 23, neglected wife of a foul American chemicals tycoon. (The lovers part after a spat; husband Hardwick, unloving yet jealous, then conspires to keep them from reconciling.) And, as heavily foreshadowed throughout, Mark's real troubles begin once he has indeed located the submerged Flora wreck and its $335 million worth of gold, jewels, art works, etc. His ultimate downfall, though, after a joyous reunion with Marianne, will be the quasi-accidental outcome of that jealous husband's nasty, Mafia-connected scheming. Unfortunately, these later chapters--festooned with placard preachments about the modern, capitalistic world's embrace of ""evil""--are overdone and unconvincing; nor is Mark fully persuasive as an emblematic victim of the dog-eat-dog world. Still, he's more likable than the smug hero of Vizinczey's In Praise of Older Women (1966)--and the first half of this simplistic tale, with its seductive blend of ambition and glamour and sexy cynicism, is likely to draw in a good-sized readership.

Pub Date: June 17th, 1985
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly-dist. by Little, Brown