by Ginger Marin
The following is book coverage I did long ago for an entertainment company.
The Master Stroke: Author: Elizabeth Gage
It’s 1955 when women were being shut out of the business world and computer technology was still in its infancy. FRANCIE BOLLINGER (23), ravishing, supremely intelligent (degrees in math, business and computers), fluent in several foreign languages, bright and honest, goes looking for a job at NYC’s MAGNUS INDUSTRIES, the world’s leader in finance and manufacturing. The Corporation was founded by ANTON MAGNUS, an immigrant-nobody with the audacity to infiltrate and marry into high society through unscrupulous means. It was a trademark that made him one of the world’s most dangerous men.
Bypassed by the personnel department, Francie seeks other means of entry. She studies the failings of the Domestic Products Division and waltzes into the office of its director to present him a plan for turning a profit. It’s a brilliant business plan and it’s Francie’s baby. This is her first taste of working for the corporate giant and it leaves a horribly bitter taste in her mouth. Francie is completely shut out of getting any credit for her hard work when the Domestic Products Division soars in profits.
Francie moves her career along, this time in an unusual act of boldness and an equally bold plan to computer-link Magnus’ European subsidiaries. Anton’s son JACK MAGNUS (30’s), the man destined to take over for his father, heads the division. After sending her research to Jack through interoffice mail where it’s promptly ignored, she decides to deliver it personally to him at home. She sneaks past the doorman, knocks on Jack’s door, certain he will throw her out. Instead, the most gorgeous man she has ever seen, invites her in and patiently listens to her plan. Her plan is approved by the Board and she gets the go-ahead to implement it. At the meeting, she first sets eyes on the God of Magnus himself, Anton, a steely man of enormous power and wealth.
Jack Magnus, handsome, wealthy, the world’s most eligible bachelor, invites Francie to a party at his family’s house, given for his sister GRETCHEN, who had just given birth. Aside from a vast array of dignitaries, Francie formally meets Anton, his wife…the extraordinarily meek VICTORIA and the youngest child in the Magnus household, JULIE (late teens, the wild one). Jack gives Francie a lesson in what it means to be a Magnus, showing his disdain for his father, a feeling also illustrated by the two daughters. The wild and troubled Julie makes her usual scene by getting drunk and passing out at the party. It’s later discovered that she is a victim of her father’s incestuous advances, just as older sister Gretchen had been. Francie also meets BELINDA, who’s to be Jack’s pre-arranged wife, the woman he’ll have nothing to do with. Jack makes his first advances on Francie, a stolen kiss that sends her reeling. She backs away but cannot forget that kiss in the days to come.
Francie goes to Europe to implement the computer-link. Paris, London, Lausanne, other cities follow. Her home base is Paris where company man ROLAND de LEAUMES takes her under his wing and presents the computer plan to other skeptical company officials. In the months that pass, he becomes her right hand man, trusted, invaluable.
About this time, Julie decides to go slumming one night to a sleazy New York City bar. She gets more than she bargains for in the name of JOHNNY MARRANTE, a low-class Italian stud, who lives for sex, the more brutal the better. Julie becomes enraptured by this just as she becomes more deeply entwined by the power he has over her. She visits him frequently, stealing away at night when the rest of high society is safely hidden in its rich cocoons. Hard raw sex rivets her to this unsavory man.
Jack arrives in Paris to check on the plan’s progress, also to see Francie and an affair is begun. It’s hot and wild, filled with abandon. Jack promises undying love and asks for marriage. Francie cannot deny him. They plan to wed after the computer-link is activated. Faced with serious computer programming problems, Francie devises a unique solution. Just as the link is to occur, Francie is called back to NEW YORK and Magnus. She arrives to find her job terminated, her office cleared and a letter from Jack explaining his abrupt marriage to Belinda….”nothing is as it seems.”
Magnus activates the computer-link. It’s a stunning breakthrough in computer technology and overseas communications. Magnus again takes credit for Francie’s work. Anton sends Roland a good deal of money for orchestrating the theft of Francie’s programming. The turn of events leaves Francie dumbfounded, especially regarding Jack. He hated everything his father stood for. How could Jack have betrayed her?
After recouping, Francie sets up a computer consulting firm called Compu-Tel, using the same type of program she designed for the Europeans. She meets SAM CARPENTER, a down-to-earth sort with computer expertise and they join forces. The company grows and Compu-Tel soon takes on a bevy of employees. A cautious romance develops between Francie and Sam. One day Magnus Industries files suit for patent infringement against the computer programs that Francie has been using. Magnus stole the concept from her and now they’re suing her for using it. After stealing the program, Anton ordered a patent on it, something that Francie had never thought of doing. Compu-Tel slowly goes into oblivion, Francie again thwarted by the wicked Magnus. But Francie has an ace up her sleeve.
Meanwhile, Julie meets a childhood friend with whom she had a crush, SCOTT MONTEAGLE, now an English barrister after his family lost all during the depression and moved to England. Over time, the two renew their friendship and romance blossoms. Scott is gentle and a gentleman, a contrast so deep to what Julie has been used to, she cannot help but love him. She knows her father will disapprove of her relationship and disinherit her if she tries to marry Scott. Nevertheless the two plan marriage, Scott being totally disinterested in her family’s wealth. He is the only good thing Julie has ever known, a purity so complete it could even wash away the filth of her soul.
All along, Sam’s been working on his own computer invention called 9292, miniaturizing its monstrously large size. Francie convinces Sam to work faster to get the job done because there’s a market of small businesses out there waiting to control their own financial destinies via computer. Francie organizes her most trusted employees and she and Sam work tirelessly in the utmost secrecy to develop the world’s first small computer mainframe.
It’s to be called MOLLIE. DANA, Francie’s, best friend from college who’s been working closely on the project, is one day abruptly fired by Francie. Dana’s been selling Compu-Tel secrets. Francie takes greater security measures that even her colleagues don’t know about. In the midst of developing Mollie, Jack Magnus re-enters Francie’s life, now divorced from Belinda and still swearing undying love to Francie. Jack blames his father for all the evil and wrong-doing against Francie. Jack’s left Magnus Industries, lost his inheritance and will start over by building his own company. Francie takes him back, saying she will marry him only after her invention is unveiled. Jack accepts the conditions. Sam is heart-broken but determined to see through his friendship and business relationship with Francie.
Julie pursues her relationship with Scott and despite all warnings, Scott is determined to get her father’s permission for marriage. Afterwards, the lovers plan to live in England, on his Barrister’s salary. Oddly, Anton grants their wish. At the same time, Jack has notified his father of his plans to marry Francie. Weddings are planned all around. But it’s not like Anton to relent on matters such as his children marrying little nobodies. Anton has something up his sleeve.
That something has to do with Jack. Jack hated his marriage to Belinda and he knew the only way he could get out of it and still have his dream of owning Magnus Industries, is to cut a deal with Anton. That deal involved Francie’s computer MOLLIE. Jack’s been spying on Compu-Tel. As a result, Magnus Industries has developed the MC2000 with the intention of beating Compu-Tel to the marketplace with a mini-computer.
Jack is ultimately willing to sacrifice Francie to get his inheritance. She’ll eventually come around, he thinks, goaded by the Magnus magic just as his mother Victoria had been.
Julie’s affair with Scott has not gone unnoticed by Johnny Marrante, who refuses to give up his golden princess for any man, let alone a British faggot sap like Scott. Johnny threatens Julie and one day goes too far, drunk and brandishing a gun at her. Julie has now known true love and this time, she’s unwilling to give it up, not for her father and surely not for Johnny. She snatches the gun from the table, kills Johnny, then obscures all evidence as she sneaks out of the apartment, sure her secret is safe. She takes the gun with her. After all, she’s not of his world so no one will ever suspect her.
Enroute to London, Scott opens an envelope with a series of photos of the naked Julie having sex with Johnny. Sickened by the photos, he calls off the wedding. Anton makes another visit to his daughter’s bedroom, revealing his knowledge of the Marrante killing and taunting her with Scott’s breakup.
Meanwhile, Jack convinces Francie to marry him earlier than the Mollie unveiling. While on their honeymoon, Magnus will unveil its prototype computer thus beating Compu-Tel. Francie goes along Jack’s idea. The Magnus family is waiting at the church ready for their coup. Everyone’s there but Francie and it finally sinks in to both Anton and Jack that Francie’s stood Jack up. As far as Anton is concerned it’s war and he’s going to do Francie in once and for all.
The next day MC2000 takes the business world by storm, and all the credit for developing the most impressive computer technology ever seen. Francie does not sue for patent infringement. Compu-Tel seemingly disappears until the day Francie had so carefully planned for approaches. The MC2000 develops massive programming hitches. Magnus customers complain and the company is spending enormous amounts of money trying to placate them. Compu-Tel slowly, assuredly and brilliantly infiltrates the market….the little computer company that could. In a Fortune magazine interview Francie surreptitiously tells the business world about the theft. Magnus stocks fall and Anton suffers humiliation.
Drunk and angry, Anton pays his daughter Julie another nighttime visit. Only one thing is on his sordid mind. A fight ensues and this time she takes refuge in Marrante’s gun. She fires and Anton collapses onto the bed, bleeding and he eventually becomes paralyzed. Ironically, Julie spends the rest of her days taking care of her invalid father, but also taking great pleasure taunting him with her voluptuous body as well as with Francie’s business successes as she drops the Wall Street Journal in his unfeeling lap.
Wealth, power, beauty, love, incest, hate, treachery beyond belief, corporate and sexual intrigue amid glitzy European locales and the mystery of high society, THE MASTER STROKE has it all. Characters are well drawn and complex, holding one’s interest throughout. Essentially an engaging soap opera filled with too many foolishly steamy sexual passages.
The main story is strong and interesting and it’s easy to care for the characters of Francie, Sam and in the beginning Jack (later he earns our hatred as much as we despise his father). We pity Julie and her mother Victoria for their inability to stand up for themselves. One roots for Francie all the way and delights in her brilliant snaring of Anton and Jack. The story takes place 1955 to 1961 and assuming the author’s research with regard to computer breakthroughs at this time is correct, plausibility is satisfied.
It’s good trashy summer reading fun. For TV, a two-parter a la Danielle Steele.