Crazy for Cornelia by Chris Gilson
(Warner, $23.95, G) ISBN 0-446-52536-7
I generally avoid romantic novels written by men. I just know that the author, in the interest of appearing serious and respectable, will eschew my requisite ďhappily ever afterĒ and I will be sorely disappointed and just plain mad. So I admit that, before I picked up new author Chris Gilsonís contemporary novel of New York, I checked the last page. Reassured, I plunged in and had a most enjoyable time.

Note that I call Crazy for Cornelia a romantic novel rather than a romance. The book doesnít adhere to the increasingly rigid conventions of a romance, especially in regard to the time the hero and heroine spend together. Yet it is undoubtedly romantic; what could be more romantic than a Cinderella-in-reverse tale of love between a doorman and a debutante?

Kevin Doyle is the son of a doorman and the nephew of a doorman. He wanted something more, wanted to become an artist. But his motherís accidental death cost him his greatest supporter, he lost his job as an orderly at Bellevue, and he needs money to perfect his tribute to his mother -- a neon light sculpture of St. Sebastian, her favorite saint. So one morning he finds himself taking up his position in front of 840 Fifth Avenue, a co-op apartment building so exclusive that its board thinks nothing of rejecting a former vice-president of the United States.

The chairman of the board at 840 Fifth Avenue is Chester Lord IV, the titular head of one of Wall Streets premier investment banks. Chester represents old money and old blood. But despite his position, Chester has a hard time dealing with the contemporary world. He had to call on the hotshot son of his Yale roommate, Tucker Fisk, to protect him from the sharks that wanted to unseat him. An even more pressing problem is his twenty-one year old daughter Cornelia, whose latest escapade -- a dip in the Plaza fountain fully chronicled by Philip Grace in his Debwatch column -- has him at his witsí end.

On the surface, Cornelia appears to be a total ditz. In fact, she has a whole secret life that no one knows about, a life devoted to restoring the reputation of the genius inventor, Nikola Tesla. (And yes, there was such a man; I looked him up on the Internet.)

Kevinís and Corneliaís lives might never have really touched were it not for the fact that he saves her life one night. Thrown together, they discover that they are soul mates. But there are nefarious forces (and not just the difference in their wealth and social status) that are determined to keep them apart.

There is no way in a brief review to describe the richness of this book. Gilson knows New York City in all its variety and brings it to life for the reader. His cast of characters is large and well drawn. His plot is complex and compelling. And his love story is both delightful and sweet.

There are villains aplenty in Crazy for Cornelia and there is a moral as well. Gilson takes a keen look at both the destructive power of excessive greed and the potential for evil when psychiatry is used to control behavior which someone with influence decides is inconvenient.

Cornelia isnít crazy; she just has her own agenda and her own view of the world. It is Kevin who, at some risk to himself, saves her from the machinations of the evil Tucker who wants to use her for his own purposes at any cost. He is a contemporary knight in shining armor.

Crazy for Cornelia is a fast-paced, entertaining, contemporary love story with a dynamite, cliff-hanger of an ending. It has loads of humor, great, larger than life characters, a neat portrait of New York, and lots of action. I certainly understand why Hollywood has already optioned the book. Iím looking forward to the movie.

--Jean Mason

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