cover image Candle in the Wind

Candle in the Wind

George Bernau / Author Warner Books $19.45 (499p) ISBN 978-0-4

Like an aging boxer, overpadded and a bit slow on its feet, this highly colored thriller delivers the occasional powerhouse punch. Bernau ( Promises to Keep ) launches it at one cultural turning point--``What if Marilyn had lived?''--and wends through two others--the Cuban missile crisis and Chappaquidick--happily rearranging historical facts to form a new, improved story line. It's a shame he wasn't equally inventive with his characters, who--with the exception of some truly stellar cameo roles (a tired blond doppelganger for Marilyn; a cranky ambulance driver)--generally lack dimension. World-weary L.A. private eye Frank Galvan is tempted into action on the the night in 1962 when he finds the drugged, naked--but still breathing--body of Marilyn Lane, America's stratospheric sex symbol, sprawled across her bed. ``What a waste,'' says Galvan succinctly, poleaxed by her beauty. When the vulnerable, manipulative star is snatched from the hospital and flees to Mexico, a small packet of glossy blackmail photos creating havoc in her wake, the smitten Galvan is not far behind. Stirred into the simmering pot are mob ties; hot affairs with charismatic President Jack Kerrigan and his brother Tommy, the U.S. attorney general; CIA plots; and rough sex, plus plenty of true-to-life 1960s sexism. The very recognizable cast should give the novel a good boost up the beach-reading list. 40,000 first printing. (Aug.)