In the early 2000 I discovered—what would become a goldmine of mine for the next decade or so—a gigantic used bookstore in downtown Ottawa. Called The Book Market, it held three floors of blast-from-the-past goodies verging from fiction to non-fiction. So you can imagine the thrill I felt that first time around filling up my basket with many ‘80s glitz and glam novels; aisles and aisles of them; so much so that as of today many titles in my overflowed library are still unread. EMPRESS by Sylvia Wallace (the other half of bestselling author Irving Wallace) isn’t one of them. I picked it up quite early, and with good reasons. It’s all about “a woman on a dangerous pinnacle of love and power” during her decadence days in Hollywood and beyond. And you all know by now how I feel about those types of heroines in those types of novels: Heavenly!
You also know that this feeling can easily turn on you when you least expect it, even when you’re on the verge of declaring the novel a champion. Yes, dear readers, that’s exactly what this Sylvia Wallace’s creation has done to yours truly. This story of an insecure movie star who naively marries a Middle Eastern Shah is such a grabber at first, filled with many delectable and even emotional scenes. Wallace's writing is vibrant as she introduces her colorful cast of characters via many flashbacks, which skillfully humanize her heroine. The discovery of the sham around her makes for an intense read. One can't help but root for her ability to fight back. And does she. Yet, ironically, that's exactly where the downfall of what was a truly unique reading experience begins: EMPRESS switches gears and becomes a serious political drama. The author tries hard to hold her readers through it, with a kidnapping, a shooting, a true love for oneself and for a country, but it’s already too late. The damage is done. The thrill of escapist fiction is gone, and EMPRESS ends up being just so-so. Perhaps Ms. Wallace should have been told that politics and light reading don't mix very well—in my case anyway.
The used bookstore where I got tons of mass market paperbacks like this one is no more. It has closed its doors in 2013 after many successful years. Another branch still exists but like EMPRESS it barely fills my heart with joy since it is as small as my reading room. But I am so thankful of having discovered downtown Book Market because it led me to find other unknown writers whom I came to love and cherish still. In the era of the digital publishing isn’t it fun to own a piece or two of forgotten gem that shouldn’t have been?
Until next post—Martin