Picks and Pans Review: Sullivan's Sting

updated 09/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Lawrence Sanders

The key to Sanders's best-selling success is his ability to blend runaway plot lines into a lot of dirty-old-man sex, with a few well-placed corpses thrown in. True, with the exception of his best novel, The First Deadly Sin, Sanders has always produced creaky dialogue, characters that are as multidimensional as those in a bad sitcom and settings as realistic as a billboard. But at least his novels have always been fun. Until now.

Sullivan's Sting is a mess. Its laughable plot has a band of businessmen comfortably running fast scams under the hot South Florida sun. These well-dressed con men are led by David Rathbone, ostensibly a financial consultant, who sees any woman over the age of 60 as an easy mark.

Rathbone and the boys take in large amounts of cash, live in plush accommodations and, by and large, enjoy the tropical fruits of their illegal labors. Into this ruthless pit, a Justice Department supra-agency tosses tough cop Rita Angela Sullivan.

To infiltrate Rathbone's crowd, she assumes the identity of a woman with a past, anxious to make lots of money. The result is a three-ring sexual circus featuring Rathbone, Sullivan and her boss, Tony Harker.

Sullivan sets her sights on Rathbone, and soon they grow so close that Sullivan nearly forgets the purpose of her operation.

Few people read a Sanders novel to catch up on new developments in exciting prose. And the glut of clich├ęd conversations and silly situations in this book makes it as clear as the nose on your face (to borrow a typical Sanders phrase) that the only one stung by Sullivan's Sting is anyone who buys it. (Putnam, $19.95)

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