The Venerable Bead

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In this comic espionage tale, Richard Condon pokes fun at show business, the military, the law, public relations, political pressure groups, advocates of the right to bear arms, and the fast-food industry as he unfolds the tumultuous life of Leila Aluja.

Of Iraqi ancestory, this daughter of a Michigan congressman is, at various times, a successful spy, dreadful actress, wildly popular singer-dancer, powerful Washington attorney, influential New York public relations executive, and, finally, ruler of the world’s largest fast-food empire. Leila has an equally colorful love life, including marriages to an Albanian diplomat, the most powerful Hollywood agent (actually an Albanian spying for the Chinese), the head of the National Gun Carriers’ Association, and a shy professor of Gaelic who suddenly becomes a major general. During her varied adventures, she is protected by the good luck bestowed by the Venerable Bead, a priceless ruby dating from the fifth century.

Condon, best known for THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1959) and three novels about the Prizzis, a Mafia family who also appear briefly here, creates a very funny picaresque plot resembling a unique blend of Harold Robbins, Len Deighton, Terry Southern, and Max Shulman. Condon directs most of his satirical vehemence at the silliness of those with conservative political agendas, especially the gun lobbyists and apologists for Ronald Reagan. At times, he seems on the verge of losing control of the convoluted strands of his story only to bring all the elements fittingly together at the end.