McGrath carries on his winning streak in the short horror novel form (Spider, 1990; The Grotesque, 1989; Blood and Water and Other Tales, 1987). Dr. Haggard's disease is sexual passion, and the story of its ravages is told in flashback as the crippled hero pieces it out to the heroine's son James, an RAF pilot. It is late-30's London, with WW II looming, and overworked and deeply exhausted young internist Edward Haggard is learning to cut under the tutelage of top surgeon Vincent Cushing and senior pathologist Ratcliff Vaughan. At a party, Haggard receives a silent smile from Vaughan's wife, Fanny, and is at once obsessed by her—as, indeed, she must be with him. Before long they have secret meetings at the Two Eagles pub and many a sexual rendezvous in his digs. McGrath charts the deepening of their adulterous passion in the same fine spirit used by modern masters of obsession, from the Japanese to Nabokov, and while this delights, it also brings on dÇjÖ vu. As becomes inevitable in the disease of passion, Edward and Fanny's affair forms a boil that fate must lance. Pathologist Ratcliff, smelling of Formalin and human rot when he comes to his wife's bed, plays the mythic emotional icicle until in rage he pushes Edward down a flight of steps, breaking Edward's hip. The hip is bolted together with a metal piece Edward names ``Spike,'' and Spike's pain leads Edward into lasting morphine addiction, costs him his role in surgery, and demotes him to general practice. Then Fanny comes down with nephritis.... Meanwhile, James becomes an angel in Spitfires, and quite literally his dead mothers's embodiment.... An unbearably memorable ending lifts this to classic level while the thin bright nerves of the storyline are padded with magnificent surgical detail, hospital lore, and moods you can rub your finger down.
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