Capital Crimes

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

As a novelist, Lawrence Sanders operates in three distinct genres. He produces conventional political thrillers such as THE ANDERSON TAPES, a classic example of the category, and psychological thrillers, in the shape of THE PASSION OF MOLLY T. and THE SEDUCTION OF PETER S., which produce short-term nightmares. Finally, in the mystery/detective genre he is responsible for the justly famous Deadly Sin series and the equally popular Timothy series. In all three cases the plots abound with twists and turns interspersed with careful and sometimes appetite-provoking descriptions of what the characters are eating. CAPITAL CRIMES, Sanders’ latest political thriller, is no exception.

The plot is easily outlined. The president of the United States falls prey to a self-proclaimed messiah who seemingly possesses the capability to heal the chief executive’s hemophiliac son while proclaiming to all and sundry that, “there is no sin, no guilt,” for all are created in God’s image and thus are incapable of error. Such a clear incitement to licentious behavior in a presidential intimate is political dynamite, but when Brother Kristos begins to influence the president’s legislative agenda and political appointments as well, catastrophe seems inevitable. In consequence, three men close to the administration resolve to terminate Brother Kristos with “extreme prejudice.”

CAPITAL CRIMES is an interesting and even plausible tale which is all the more convincing in that it all happened in another time and place. In 1903 a self-proclaimed holy man named Grigory Yefimovich Novykh, nicknamed Rasputin (Russian for “debauched one”), gained a dominant position in the court of Czar Nicholas II. Rasputin was able to ease the suffering of the Czar’s hemophiliac son and therefore exercised a considerable degree of influence on the Russian government. So much so, in fact, that three members of the Russian court, to save the monarchy from further scandal, assassinated Rasputin in 1916--shortly before the empire was swept away by revolution. The parallels between Brother Kristos and Rasputin are so exact, even to the method of execution, as to constitute the most blatant historical plagiarism. This is, it must be noted, not uncommon in literature, in that art often imitates life, but it is surprising that nowhere in CAPITAL CRIMES does the reader find any mention of the infamous mad monk who helped to provoke the Russian Revolution. Rasputin’s heirs should demand royalties.