John C. BolandSt. Martin's Press 232...

RICH MAN'S BLOOD

August 15, 1993|By BOB BAYLUS CAST A SPELL Bette Pesetsky Harcourt Brace & Co. 195 pages. $21.95 | BOB BAYLUS CAST A SPELL Bette Pesetsky Harcourt Brace & Co. 195 pages. $21.95,LOS ANGELES TIMES

RICH MAN'S BLOOD John C. Boland

St. Martin's Press 232 pages. $17.95 Richard Welles is the youngest son of the owner of a Baltimore investment firm. His father is a taskmaster, his brother a dilettante. In such a milieu, it is hardly surprising that Richard is without friends at the firm, but he compensates by throwing himself into his work.

When Richard receives information that a client -- a Louisiana boating company -- has defaulted on a loan, he goes to investigate. What he finds is kidnapping and attempted murder. Although they do not capture the culprits, Richard, the local police and the FBI are able to recover the money. Returning home, Richard discovers that his work in Louisiana has followed him to Baltimore: He must fight for the survival not only of his client but of his family as well.

"Rich Man's Blood" is the fourth mystery mixing murder with high finance by Baltimore author John C. Boland. His prose is lean and his pace fast, the Baltimore and Louisiana action ring true, and the financial atmosphere seems authentic. But the main characters -- particularly Richard -- are so unsympathetic that it is hard to feel much empathy for them. Part one of "Cast a Spell," Bette Pesetsky's latest novel, ends with a letter to free-lance writer Carolyn Howard from the Sunshine Publishing Company. The letter advises Carolyn (Carrie) to put more effort into her article on her sister/cousin, Raemunde Howard, a k a Miz Magic. Don't get sidetracked, the editor advises her. "Remember," he says, "real secrets about women are always sexual." In parts two and three, readers will learn whether, and to what extent, this is true.

Raemunde -- Rae, the central character of this story told from several points of view and from shifting time frames -- was abandoned by her mother, then by her stepparents. Her neurotic grandmother raised her, along with cousins Carrie and Lila. Surviving a dysfunctional childhood, Rae achieves a measure of fame as a television personality doing magic tricks for children. But there's something mysterious about her. Carrie wants to learn if that something involves black magic or white magic.

Rae's relation to the supernatural is one of the points of Ms. Pesetsky's not always focused story. The other points concern a father's presence or lack of it; trauma caused by rape; the resilience of childhood; and the role of imagination in all of these.

DIANE SCHARPER

THE FIRST TO SPEAK: A WOMAN OF COLOR INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE Kristin Clark Taylor Doubleday

303 pages. $22.50

As a former mid-level official in the Bush administration -- the White House director of media relations -- Kristin Clark Taylor isn't in much of a position to write a tell-all book about her three years serving George Bush. It's pretty clear, however, that she wouldn't dish significant dirt even if she had it by the bucketful, for she "wasn't raised that way."

The seventh and youngest child in a highly successful, highly religious black family from Detroit -- she and her siblings collectively have earned 17 university degrees -- she sees herself as a role model for all black women. And she is, at that, largely because she seems to have been able to strike a good balance between her private and professional lives. "The First to Speak" is as much about Kristin Clark Taylor's parents and her own children as about the White House -- where her duties and crises, truth be told, aren't particularly interesting. The one surprise in this book is how well George Bush comes across, his frequent inarticulateness and unfocused energy humanizing the presidency for generally out-of-the-loop staffers such as the author.

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