Picks and Pans Review: Capital Crimes

updated 09/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Lawrence Sanders

The protagonist of this diverting novel, Brother Kristos, is a mesmerizing monk with an array of believers. Most of his flock come from the working poor, the destitute and the driven, people seeking easy answers to diverse physical ailments. Kristos supplies the answers, albeit in placebo form, and after dropping off a few hard-earned dollars and cents, the multitudes walk away happy and cured.

Then Kristos hits the faith healer's lottery. He is called into the White House and asked to help the President's hemophiliac son. Everyone else has failed to stop the bleeding of the boy's leg wound, but Kristos knows this is a once-in-a-life-time deal, and he comes through to save the boy. Soon Brother Kristos has vaulted to the level of most trusted presidential adviser, using his ability to influence people as a means to gain political power.

The one man blocking the monk's ascent to control over the President is John Tollinger, executive assistant to the White House chief of staff. Tollinger sets out to defrock the monk and expose him as nothing more than a vodka-chugging fraud. Not so easy a task when you're up against a man who can make the dead dance and the sick head for home: "Kristos gives him a sly smile. 'You have lost your woman and think yourself happy in your solitude. You yearn to become a hermit.'

"Tollinger is stunned....'You're totally wrong,' he says in a shaky voice.

" 'No,' Brother Kristos says. 'I am totally right. But it is not too late to change, to seek love and return it.'

" 'God's love?'

" 'Or a woman's,' the preacher says, shrugging. 'Same thing.' "

Okay, okay, so it's not exactly Dickens. It's not even Mickey Spillane on a fast track. The writing is just workmanlike, the plot borders on the ludicrous, the cardboard characters are one-dimensional. But drawbacks aside, it sure is a lot of fun.

Sanders (The First Deadly Sin, Timothy's Game) moves his story along like a runaway train, fast and frenzied, uphill and down, without a pause. And there is enough sex (heaving and moaning mostly), double-dealing (the staple of political novels) and plot twists (can we really trust the First Lady?) to keep even the most demanding pop-fiction reader satisfied. (Putnam, $19.95)

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