cover image The Secret

The Secret

Harold Robbins. Forge, $25.95 (364pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86608-2

A sequel to The Predators, Robbins's second posthumous novel opens with a flawless scene. Len Cooper is drinking gin and playing poker in his prep school dorm while two of his buddies masturbate over copies of Hustler. Comes a knock on the door, and grim news: Len's beautiful and adored French mother, Giselle, is dead, and his forbidding father, Jerry, is on his way to the school. The mix of comedy and tragedy, grossness and tender feelings, are described in vivid language at perfect tempo. Alas, the rest of the book is a long, slow downward slide, giving rise to suspicion that Robbins, who died in 1997, never revised the final draft. Alternately told from Len's and Jerry's points of view, the narrative chronicles the spectacular rise of the naughty lingerie empire Cheeks. The ""secret""? Just ask Len's second wife, Vittoria, n e Castellano, daughter of a capo, widow of tough guy Louie Luchese. Scanty as to motivation, obsessively covering (and baring) breasts and buttocks, Robbins's roman clef is more catalogue than story. Subplots explore sweatshop conditions, trade relations with China and technology millionaires, but all roads lead to nipple clips and crotchless panties. Empire-builders, fathers, husbands: the men in Robbins's world are, at heart, still teenage boys masturbating to Hustler. Perhaps that's Vicky's real secret. (June)