SHE'S like the witty, gutsy heroine in one of her own
best-selling mystery novels.
Resourceful, to start with. The day Susan Isaacs dropped her
youngest child off at nursery school for the first time, she drove
straight home and started her first novel. She had no college
degree, no high-powered career - nothing that would indicate a
megabucks future of hot novels, Hollywood movies, a house in the
Hamptons and a pied-a-terre in Manhattan.
On a recent summer afternoon, Isaacs traveled from her Long
Island home into Manhattan to meet a visitor in her apartment on
Central Park South, just up the street from the St. Moritz and The
She wrote that first novel in the bedroom, papers scattered
over bed and pillows, swept away by the adventures of her heroine,
a Long Island housewife whose pornography-loving dentist is killed
one day. Each night her lawyer-husband would come home, read her
day's work, tell her she was really on to something.
He wasn't kidding.
"Compromising Positions" became an instant best seller, then a
successful movie starring Susan Sarandon and Raul Julia. Since
then, each of her seven mysteries has become a best seller, and
"Hello Again" was also made into a movie.
Her latest mystery, "Lily White," hit best-seller lists right
after its release this month. Whoopi Goldberg snatched up the movie
rights, and production is expected to start soon, with Isaacs as
Nothing mysterious about her popularity, however.
"I think people who read her books recognize something in her
characters they might like to do or be themselves," says Amy Fikes,
owner of the Mystery Book Store in Dallas. "There's a connection."
Part of her broad appeal, Fikes believes, is that "she crosses
the mystery genre into general fiction. Her plots are tight, she's
humorous but serious at the same time. She has insights into
serious issues without being depressing."
Critics are calling "Lily White" her most confident and
appealing book so far. Perhaps it's because her heroine, Lee White,
has a dark side - hidden wounds beneath her relentless humor that
give depth to her character. There's a mystery behind the mystery.
Lee is a criminal-defense lawyer whose client - a con man
running a love-'em-and-leave-'em marriage scam - is arrested for
murder. She grabbed Isaacs' interest one day as she worked on the
"I heard her say, `I was never a virgin,' " says Isaacs. "I
thought, `Oh, that's fun. I like that! I know exactly what she
And so the story begins:
"I was never a virgin.
"OK: In the technical sense, of course I was. But even in my
dewy days, I never gazed at the world wide-eyed with wonder. If I
wasn't born shrewd, at least I grew up too smart to be naive."
Isaacs, with her kohl-rimmed eyes, dark, curly hair and a
black-lace camisole peeking from the bodice of her pantsuit,
resembles her heroines in ways that transcend the grit and
wisecracks. Usually in their 40s, they're middle-age women with
strong sexuality and a growing sense of personal power. This is no
"One of the joys of growing older is self-knowledge, and being
able to do away with pretense," says Isaacs, who is 52. "When you
know what you are and what you aren't, you bloom emotionally and
you bloom sexually.
"I see women who are washed up at 28. Nothing much is going to
happen to them for the rest of their lives. They lack energy, they
lack elan, they lack hope.
"Other women spend huge amounts of money on cosmetics, or their
hair, or clothes, go to exercise class, massage anticellulite cream
into their thighs every night and every morning. They do
everything, and they never find men.
"Then there are women who look like a sack of potatoes with
lipstick on, and they do wonderfully because they're capable of
fun, they give off an aura of `I like men, I like sex, and mostly,
I like myself. …