Sexy it is, graphic it isn't


DANGEROUS GAMES. By Susan Crosland. Random House. 294 pages. $20. SUSAN Crosland is the Baltimore native (daughter of Sun correspondent and editor Mark Watson) and writer who is much better known in London than she is in Baltimore or any other American city. She married twice, first to Sun correspondent Patrick Skene Catling, then to Labor Party politician Anthony Crosland, and has written for various British papers.

"Ruling Passions," her first novel, was a best-seller in Britain and did well here. "Dangerous Games," already a hit in Britain and published in the U.S. last month, has been touted as a "crossover book," one that will make the 56-year-old Ms. Crosland as popular here as she is in England. In other words, Random House is hoping that when it comes to this kind of genre fiction -- thriller/sex/romance -- the tastes of American readers differ little from those of their counterparts over there.

The British, of course, have a reputation for understatement -- never mind that their working-class sons go ballistic at soccer games -- while Americans, allegedly, enjoy the graphic and overblown in everything from sexy novels to the number of ice cubes they put in their highballs.

"Dangerous Games" is a sexy novel. The characters play a perpetual game of musical beds. But graphic it isn't, as Ms. Crosland leaves a lot to her readers' imaginations. Nor does she include much violence -- no thrilling chase scenes or shoot-outs that lead to a protagonist-antagonist fight to the death.

But if the book seems tame by some standards -- American standards if one accepts generalizations about ethnic groups and nationalities -- it is also entertaining in its depiction of the privileged lives of certain high-powered media and political stars. "I know intimately how power brokers in Washington, New York and London behave behind the scenes," Ms. Crosland told Vanity Fair.

Of course, her characters misbehave more than they behave. We wouldn't have much fun reading about them otherwise. Georgie Chase, editor of a national newsweekly, is sleeping with Washington lobbyist Jock Lidden, who is sleeping with his aide, Lisa Tabor, who is also sleeping with Washington political columnist Hugo Carroll, who is married to Georgie Chase, who is best friends with Patsy Lonsdale and her husband Ian, head of Britain's Board of Industry, Trade and Energy (BITE), who is sleeping with Maureen Holloran, an Irish nationalist with suspected IRA connections.

We get the point: Business is business, politics is politics, sex is sex and ever the three shall meet, at least when it comes to power and influence peddling. Here, the power and peddling are focused on Star Oil and Oklahoma Petroleum, American companies bidding for an offshore drilling license for a field near the Hebrides. Each, if it wins, promises to build a refinery in Ulster. The BITE-financed venture would put hundreds of Ulster's unemployed Catholics to work, thus undermining IRA influence.

It gets even more tangled, this tale of people in high places jumping, literally and figuratively, in and out of bed, maneuvering and making deals, moving and shaking the world around them. Ms. Crosland weaves the net adroitly, holding our interest. There's also suspense here -- not great but palpable -- and there's plenty of dry British wit and finely rendered characters speaking the way we'd expect them to.

This reviewer can't say how accurate Ms. Crosland's depiction of the milieu of power politics really is. But her message seems to be this: It's good work if you can get it.

Mark Miller is former book editor of The Daily Record.

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