cover image My Beloved Son

My Beloved Son

Catherine Cookson. Simon & Schuster, $21.5 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-75865-3

The latest from Cookson ( The Love Child ; The Bailey Chronicles ) is a perfunctorily plotted novel of tragedy and romance. After his father's death in 1926, five-year-old Joe Jebeau and his tyrannical mother, Ellen, move to his uncle Arthur's estate in northern England. As the years pass, Ellen becomes the mistress of the house, a position she plans to retain by any means necessary. By the onset of WW II, her greedy scheming has landed her son a title and an estate, but at the cost of the lives of the people he loves most. To escape his mother's madness, Joe joins the war effort, hiding behind the uniform of a common corporal and trying to bury his pain. When he believes himself betrayed by the woman he has loved since childhood, he sinks even deeper into despair. It takes plain but wise Maggie LeMan and her outspoken, down-to-earth aunt to break through the barrier Joe has constructed and teach him how to see the truth. Many of the story's emotional developments seem forced, especially Joe's agonizing and his eventual discovery of his feelings for Maggie. Cookson's contrived characterizations never fully engage her reader. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternates. (Jan.)