The first half of this sleek historical concoction offers a fetching, faintly nasty portrait of Oxford's Rev. Charles...

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MAD HATTER SUMMER

The first half of this sleek historical concoction offers a fetching, faintly nasty portrait of Oxford's Rev. Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) pursuing his quasi-chaste passion for barely pubescent girls--photographing them (often ""in their favourite dress of nothing to wear""), sketching them, kissing them, telling them his famous stories. . . and being followed by Dickensian blackmailers determined to exploit his predilections. The novel's second haft, less distinctively, becomes a murder-mystery--with Dodgson as both suspect and amateur sleuth. In this Oxford/Eastbourne summer, some years after Alice in Wonderland's publication, Dodgson's favorite subject is 13-year-old Jane Ashmole, who's more than eager for her beloved ""Dodo"" to photograph her in the altogether; at home, you see, Jane has no father and a strangely remote mother--who is apparently carrying on with Dodgson's lascivious colleague/enemy Thomas Godwin. (He fondles and taunts young Jane about her Reverend friend.) But two slimy con-men, veteran blackmailers of the Victorian high and mighty, are shadowing Dodgson--stealing his photos of Jane, vainly attempting (on the beach at Eastbourne) to seduce Dodgson with a hired Lolita, then taking some photos of their own: Dodgson (in violation of his own rules) actually kissing the naked Jane! Will Dodgson pay up, then, when blackmailer Major Dicky Tiptoe shows him this scandal-making evidence? No, the likably unflappable Dodgson will not. And then Tiptoe's body is found in the river with a fatal head-wound. Whodunit? That's the question for Scotland Yard's Inspector Swain--whose primary suspects are Dodgson and Tiptoe's colleague-in-blackmail. The clues include a stopped watch, a camera, and a photo (Tiptoe was up to his photo-peeping when murdered). Soon, however, the investigation expands--as other blackmail victims and old sexual secrets come to the surface. . . with a nicely ironic, if far from earth-shattering, fadeout. Swain's sleuthing is a bit slow, and Thomas' period-blend (crime/sex/mores) doesn't ever rival the similar one in Julian Symons' Blackheath Poisonings--but Dodgson's haft-ashamed compulsions are handled with light shrewdness; the Oxford/photography atmosphere is fine; and those creepy blackmailers contribute much-needed brio to a smooth twirl of fact and fiction.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1983

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1983