Picks and Pans Review: Fatal Charms and Other Tales of Today

updated 03/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Dominick Dunne

The author of 1985's best-selling novel, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (which led to this year's miniseries), has now produced a collection of essays that should delight devotees of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. These 13 tales, many of which originally appeared in Vanity Fair, are mostly interviews with jet-setters in their natural habitats: Aaron Spelling's wife, Candy, in the elegant study of her Beverly Hills mansion; Gloria Vanderbilt in her lavish Manhattan apartment; Imelda Marcos in the Hawaiian beachfront abode where she and Ferdinand dream of wealthier days. Dunne is scrupulous in his description of the jewels, furs, objects d'art and other trappings of affluence. He is less successful at bringing to life the personalities behind the possessions. And it's hard to know what he really thinks of the lives he depicts. While he obviously sees the outrageousness of spending $25 million on a house with an indoor ice-skating rink, a bowling alley and a zoo (the Spelling estate), he also seems fascinated and even charmed by such excesses. The book's most satisfying entries are the title essay, about Claus von Bülow's second trial for the attempted murder of his wife, and "Justice," a moving piece about the 1982 murder of Dunne's actress daughter, Dominique. These two are more than just portraits of modern decadence. Here, Dunne has opinions to voice and substantial stories to tell. "The problem with Claus," he quotes one Von Bulow intimate as saying, "is that he does not dwell in the Palace of Truth...His name is a fake. His life is a fake. He has created a character that he plays. Claus is trompe l'oeil." Dunne might be better off sticking to meatier material like that and leaving the society house calls to Robin Leach. (Crown, $18.95)

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