September 02, 1991 12:00 PM

by Patrick Anderson

Popular fiction, at its paradigmatic pulpy best, provides a track-hugging narrative, a judicious mix of sympathetic and evil characters, and enough sex to satisfy all but the most prurient readers. All those qualities are present, with verve and drollery—and in Texas-size proportions—in this tale of twins who become enmeshed with one of the Lone Star State’s richest, most twisted families.

Twins Jessica and Mickey Ketchum, who are taken from their teenage mother shortly after birth, live together until they are separated at age 13. Jessica, the sweet, intellectual one, is adopted; Mickey, the resourceful one, stays at the orphanage.

Cut to almost 20 years later: Jessica marries a Texas billionaire with a messed-up family, and Mickey joins the Drug Enforcement Agency as an undercover agent in Washington, D.C. When one twin is murdered, the other sets out to avenge her.

What makes all of this such compulsively page-turning fun is that Anderson, a speechwriter for Jimmy Carter and Robert Kennedy and author of eight previous novels (including the best-sellers The President’s Mistress and Lord of the Earth), keeps his parallel stories of the twins moving along deftly, while also finding room to include colorful subsidiary characters.

That many of these people seem inspired by recent headlines only adds to a reader’s pleasure, offering the titillation that Anderson is giving the inside skinny. Could, for example, a well-known U.S. senator be the model when Anderson writes, “The Senator was a genial man and a champion of noble causes. The problem was that in middle age he had developed a fondness for illegal drugs and teenage girls that worried even his most stalwart aides”?

Rich as Sin, except for a trial scene that drags, is indeed rich in entertainment value. (Simon & Schuster, $22.95)

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