Picks and Pans Review: Carriage Trade

updated 08/23/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/23/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Stephen Birmingham

When Silas Tarkington (né Solly Tarcher), the enigmatic, impeccably groomed owner of New York City's most elegant department store (it actually has a dress code for customers) dies (or perhaps he was murdered) while swimming laps on his country estate, the lives of myriad family members and colleagues are thrown into turmoil. His beautiful daughter, Miranda, wants to take charge of the store. His frosty second wife, Consuelo, believes her inexperienced daughter will not so much run the store as run it into the ground, and thus wants to sell out. Naturally, before the novel's end, a host of nasty secrets—illegitimacy, infidelity, suicide, blackmail, bribery, embezzlement—are uncovered.

Birmingham, author of such bestsellers as Our Crowd and The Auerbach Will, has fashioned a lugubrious plot with characters stiff enough to be department-store mannequins and prose that's strictly bargain basement. "A mother can't forget about her firstborn, her son. A mother can't stop loving her firstborn, her only son. It's just not possible. Because that was what he was, my firstborn, my only son. Oh, my..." Oh, ray, is right. (Bantam, $21.95)

From Our Partners