Re-reading this book after twenty years or more it's hard to believe that Goldman was once the king of all media, and his novels and screenplays were snapped up fresh, hurtling to the top of the charts. He is still with us, I believe, but more or less a spent force. Here, in CONTROL, he effortlessly turns out one of the more interesting thrillers of the 1980s, a book that feels like the best Stephen King book not written by King. Parts of it are very much like King's FIRESTARTER, but ever since My Lai and Watergate many thrillers took as their underlying mise-en-scene a government corrupt on the inside with a specialty of bizarre military experiments that involved an absoulte disregard for human life.
In this one--well, it isn't fair to say. Goldman fans love his powers of invention and his grasp of all kinds of characters--an elementary grasp, but a powerful one, like Schwartzenegger's handshake. Here he goes back to BUTCH CASSIDY form to re-stir yet another buddy-comedy plot, in this case a young cop and an old cop, who hate each other, then love each other, that is perhaps the best thing about the novel. I don't think Goldman's true talents lie in trying to imagine the inner life of an ambitious female painter--no, that is beyond him. The paintings that Edith Mazursky accomplishes are, we are told, great behemoths of something entirely new; her dealer swoons over them, the critics rave, but we never believe any of this for a minute.
The savage killer, "Billy Boy," is another laughable cliche, but perhaps time has supplied the laughs and back then in 1982 he wasn't such a carbon copy of every other sociopath. I'm undecided about this and will give Goldman the benefit of the doubt.
Finally, the creation of the tutor, Theo, and the spoiled rich princess, Charlotte, is something new under the sun, and still, years and years after Goldman first wrote CONTROL, this subplot is still daring enough to take the reader's breath away. I can't say why here, for it depends on a trick of perspective--the sort of "twist" that made THE SIXTH SENSE a surprise only if you didn't know there WAS a twist going in. So forget I said anything, and I think you will get a big kick out of the mind of William Goldman and his awesome CONTROL.