The Bargain

The Burning Point

Captured Hearts

The China Bride

Faery Magic

One Perfect Rose

The Rake

River of Fire

Shattered Rainbows

The Wild Child

The Spiral Path by Mary Jo Putney
(Berkley, $7.50, R) ISBN 0-425-18301-7
4:12 in the morning. That is the ungodly hour when I read the last page of Mary Jo Putney’s second contemporary romance and stumbled to bed. But even then I didn’t go right to sleep. I was still caught up in the compelling story of Kenzie Scott and Raine Marlowe, two Hollywood luminaries who must overcome the past if they are to have any chance for happiness.

Kenzie Scott is the reigning heart throb of the silver screen. British born and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, his handsome face, striking green eyes, and charming manner combined with his talent have brought him to the pinnacle of success. As he watches a tape of the Oscar-nominated performance of Raine Marlowe, he is struck by the actress’s talent and charisma. When his is offered the lead in a remake of The Scarlet Pimpernel, he makes it a condition of his participation that Raine be given the role of Marguerite.

Raine, the daughter of a self-destructive rock star who died of a drug overdose, has built a career as an actor in small films. She realizes that this is her breakthrough opportunity. The chemistry between the two stars is palpable, both on screen and off. When the film is complete, the two become lovers and decide to marry. Four years later, they are in the process of divorcing. Theirs has been a civilized break-up. Thus, Raine hopes that Kenzie will agree to star in a movie that she has written and plans to direct. She needs him to assure the needed financing.

Kenzie agrees to play the role of Captain John Randall, an officer in the British Army in the 19th century whose experiences when he is captured almost destroy him. But when he reads the script, after having already said yes, Kenzie tries to back out. Kenzie’s own life is too close to Randall’s. But his professionalism requires that he keep his word. As the filming progresses, the demons that he has kept at bay come ever closer to the surface.

Putney does a masterful job of delineating the relationship between Kenzie and Raine. They are in fact in love with each other; being together and playing opposite each other reignites the flame that has never truly died. But the dead hand of the past continues to threaten to keep them apart.

What makes this story so powerful are the characterizations. Kenzie is a wonderfully drawn tortured hero. Putney succeeds in making him fully human by showing how he suffers, yet she does not make him appear weak. Rather, the reader comes to appreciate just how amazingly strong he is, how courageous, how admirable.

Raine is the perfect foil for Kenzie. She seems much more together, much more self-aware. Certainly, as a woman in the male-dominated world of Hollywood, she has to be determined and assertive. Yet she too has been shaped by her childhood and must come to understand her own insecurities and fears.

Putney enriches her story by providing a fascinating view of the crafts of movie making and acting. She describes the incredible demands that both make on those involved with a sure hand. By integrating the scenario of the film with the personal stories of its stars, the novel becomes even more enthralling. As one who has always enjoyed movies about the entertainment world in general and the movie business in particular, I appreciated this part of The Spiral Path.

Another important strand in the story is the relentless pressure of the press in the lives of celebrities. The ruthless determination of the tabloid press to find every scandal, real or imagined, and to uncover every secret plays a pivotal role in the plot. The picture Putney paints of the barracuda-like behavior of the reporters is not attractive, but undoubtedly all too real.

I should note that this book is somewhat related to Putney’s first contemporary, The Burning Point. Raine is a close friend of the heroine of that novel and appeared briefly in it. Likewise, another of the “Circle of Friends” who grew up together in Baltimore, Val, is an important secondary character in the new release. Like all of the secondary characters, she is very well drawn.

The Spiral Path is a book I will want to read again; hence, it s “keeper” status. Like many of Putney’s books, it deals with a the legacy of serious psychological trauma. The author is sometimes accused of making her characters’ recovery seem too easy. I do not think this is the case here. The happy ending is hard won which makes it all the more satisfying. And The Spiral Path is a very, very satisfying contemporary romance.

--Jean Mason

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