Friday, February 03, 2006

Perkins's `Zillionaire,' King's Zombies, a Loutish Debut: Books

Perkins's `Zillionaire,' King's Zombies, a Loutish Debut: Books

(The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Bloomberg.)

By Edward Nawotka

Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) -- How do billionaires have sex?

The answer, judging from Tom Perkins's debut novel, is that they do it like protagonists in pulp romances: on yachts anchored off St. Barts with partners as athletic as porn stars.

Perkins should know. As a founding partner of Silicon Valley investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, he is a man of means. He's also the ex-husband of Danielle Steel, whose sex scenes have made millions of readers quiver.

At age 73, Perkins has lived a full life. Kleiner Perkins has financed the likes of Google Inc. Yet he's not afraid to launch a career as a novelist with ``Sex and the Single Zillionaire'' (HarperCollins, 290 pages, $24.95), a light confection about a 62-year-old investment banker, Steven Hudson, who goes for a spin on a reality TV show called ``Trophy Bride.''

The program shows Steven dating a chorus line of willing gold diggers, including a ditzy blonde ``country girl,'' a pair of whip-wielding lesbians and an insatiable nymphet who force- feeds him Viagra. Steven yawns. This ``Lion of Wall Street'' is not easily seduced. He has his eye on the show's 39-year-old producer, Jessie James.

Perkins's crisp prose -- honed on years of crafting stock prospectuses, no doubt -- propels the story through waves of superlatives. When Steven first meets Jessie, she's described as ``startling beautiful: tall, black hair, brilliant blue eyes, and a look in her sculpted face of refinement and intrigue. Her complexion was extraordinary, her figure marvelous.''

21 Club, Gulfstream V

And so on. Nearly everyone in this book has a flawless physique. Only Steven's personal chef is, well, ``chubby.''

Throughout, Perkins catalogs the earthly delights available to the rich, from a Gulfstream V with pilots on 24-hour standby to walk-in seating at New York's 21 Club, where ``tables were more guardedly allocated than positions in heaven.''

Need we say that the rich man gets the girl?

On the other end of the spectrum stands Stephen King, the writer who drops a fly in every bowl of turtle soup. A year after watching his beloved Boston Red Sox win the 2004 World Series, King destroys the city in his icky new book, ``Cell'' (Scribner, 350 pages, $26.95).

The novel opens with a stunt. One October afternoon at exactly 3:03 p.m., a mysterious electronic pulse transforms anyone talking on a cell phone into a flesh-eating zombie.

Fluff and Guts

Clay Riddle, our hero, is standing opposite the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston when the pulse goes out. He watches as a business woman and two schoolgirls at a Mister Softee ice-cream truck devour the vendor.

Behind Clay, in a tasteless echo of what happened at New York's World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, people try to escape the zombies by jumping from buildings. A poodle gets off relatively easy when it's run down by a limo crossing Boylston Street. ``Fluff at one moment; guts at the next,'' writes King.

Clay teams up with two other ``normies,'' and they set out to walk to Clay's home in Maine to see if his son is alive. Along the way, they try to save the world from ``phone-crazies.''

Though King is a self-proclaimed cell-phone Luddite, he isn't above allowing his publisher to promote the book by offering a downloadable ``Pulse'' ring tone.

Unfortunately, this book turns out to be as silly as its premise. ``Cell'' offers few ideas unexplored by dozens of zombie flicks, ranking the novel as one of the least imaginative in King's increasingly inconsistent opus.

`Utterly Monkey'

Nick Laird is best known to the public as the husband of novelist Zadie Smith. His first novel is as different from ``On Beauty'' as a Mini Cooper is from a Mercedes.

``Utterly Monkey'' (HarperCollins, 368 pages, $13.95; Fourth Estate, 9.99 pounds) is a loutish-lad thriller about London lawyer Danny Simmons and his feckless childhood mate, Geordie, who arrives on Danny's doorstep with 50,000 pounds stolen from Loyalist paramilitaries back home in Northern Ireland.

Soon Danny and Geordie discover they've stumbled into a plot to bomb the Bank of England on July 12, the day when Protestant ``Orangemen'' march in Northern Ireland to commemorate the victory of William of Orange over James II in the 1690 Battle of the Boyne. Together, they try to foil the fanatics.

Laird, a former attorney who hails from Northern Ireland, offers insights into why ``when two Ulstermen sit down together, there's probably an even fifty-fifty chance they'll try to kill each other.'' His speedy, entertaining novel ends on an apt note of absurdity, combining high farce with modern terror.