At first glance it would seem that this British author is attempting a Jules et Jim exploration of the alternately straining and relaxing ties between two hung-up young men, but this violent, unpleasant novel has too sensational a framework for concentrated consanguinous counterpoint. Peter Keevil, a teacher of retarded, deformed children, and John Morann are an unlikely pair of friends--Morann, coasting along on the pleasant currents of successful seductions; Peter achingly assaulted by the consciousness of the horror and degradation of humanity. But Peter, with the mystic's revulsion at his own humanness finds in violence, the natural effluvium of existence, an inkling of release. The offhand murder of a waterfront tough, the sadistic murder of a child, the slow torture-murder of his partner in the child's death, alternate with attempts at non-being in a bourgeois marriage and fatherhood. Morann, plagued by an awareness of a lack of deep feeling, is stopped in his appointed rounds by an affair with Anna, childlike, capable of an ecstatic love. But Anna plummets to a living death of total paralysis and Morann searches for a purgative orgy of consciousness--through a sadist cult and a contemplated retributive murder of a man who had once tortured Anna. Morann moves against Peter's self-destruction: Peter saves Morann from his murder. Davies' darkling plain, tunneled with all imaginable excreta and pounded by the frightened beasts of the psyche, is a repellent landscape; de Sade-vantageous, to any weighty concern the author may be exploring--but vigorous.