Danielle Steel is a popular American novelist and has written 142 books--98 of which are novels—and she has sold more than 800 million copies. I first came across her books more than twenty years ago when I saw my student assistant at a university where I taught carry a Danielle Steel paperback in her hands while passing time in between classes. Danielle Steel writes in a simple language about average people caught in the limelight, trying to cope with the simple problems of life, including having too much money. The protagonists in her novels are not big thinkers or achieve any greatness, and this one is no exception.
In the book under review, “Undercover” (Random House, 2015) tracks the work of Marshall Everett an undercover agent for the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The synopsis on the first page of the book indicates that it is about “A special agent who has lost everything, and a diplomat's daughter hoping to bury the past. After their paths cross in Paris, they must fight once more for their survival.” While working in the jungles of South America, Marshall penetrates a powerful drug cartel, and rises to the position of the right-hand man of the kingpin, Raul Vasquez Lopez in Ecuador. However, just before American DEA agents raided the camp where Lopez operated, Marshall was extracted from the jungles, and flown back to Washington DC.
Marshall then was seconded to the US Secret Service on a temporary basis and worked in the White House on the Presidential detail. However, while on a trip with the President, he was injured when an assassination attempt on the President went bad. Marshall took disability and retired from the services rather than take a desk job. He decides to spend a year in Paris and brings along a newly found companion, a dog.
The story then takes a slight detour with Ariana, a New York socialite, and daughter of the newly appointed Ambassador to Argentina. A few weeks after she arrives in Buenos Aires, Ariana is kidnapped by Argentine guerillas and she becomes a victim case of Stockholm Syndrome and develops a relationship with the leader of the kidnappers. And of course, the US government cannot let the Ambassador's daughter be held by guerillas forever, and decides to pay the ransom money but also work with the Israelis and the British to mount a rescue operation. The leader of the kidnappers Jorge dies in the raid, and Ariana is rescued. As is Danielle Steele's wont, her plot then takes the easy route and the Ambassador dies in the melee following a cardiac arrest. Ariana comes back to USA, decides to take a vacation in Paris, where he meets Marshall, they fall in love and live happily ever after.
If the reader feels this storyline is too formulaic, then I cannot blame you since this is a novel worse than some of the fictions I have read in my high school years. Danielle Steel's writing style is pretty prosaic, as in the following paragraph.
“Marshall had been asleep for several hours when Bill Carter was called to the cockpit, an hour before they landed in Washington. The message relayed to Bill in code was that the camp had been raided. Marshall's woman was dead, shot through the head, and El Lobo had escaped before they got there, yet again.”
However, for a fast reader it's not a bad book to read on the plane. As in many other books of Steel, the plot is simple, boy meets girl, after she goes to Paris. The narrative is sometimes over-simplistic. For example, after the successful raid to rescue Ariana from an Argentine captors, the writer describes the mindset of the commando team: “The only survivor the combined forces wanted out of that camp was Ariana—the rest could die in the forest for all they cared. There was no value in keeping her kidnappers alive”!
After coming back to NYC, as Ariana reflects on the fate of her lover, Jorge who perished during the Special Ops mission, and the modus operandi of his gang: “And the fact that he had wanted twenty million dollars of her father's money to help poor people made sense too. Poor people were the saints, and rich ones the sinners. And it only increased her hatred of herself, that he had instilled in her. But Jorge had promised to save her, and now he was dead.”
This is the first book by Danielle Steel that I've read and I will say I was disappointed, but I did not expect anything more. Her audience base typically consists of teenagers looking for a quick escape between boring lectures or waiting at the bus stop for a ride.
The reviewer lives and works in Boston and recently published a collection of short stories, entitled “A Chance Encounter”.