Another stylish (if rather dank) psychosexual crime-study from the British author of The Needle (1976)--moving from murder...



Another stylish (if rather dank) psychosexual crime-study from the British author of The Needle (1976)--moving from murder in 1930s colonial India to the killer's atonement in wartime England. . . to release (and a full explanation) in postwar Australia. Inside the India household of wealthy hotel/textiles tycoon Toby Thompson there are tensions to match those arising from the native rebellions outside: Toby is an ever-randy womanizer, lusting after Eurasian governess Clare, recalling (graphically) erotic/kinky past adventures; second wife Isabel is pregnant, happy, but brooding on the recent murder (by an insulted Indian) of her twin brother; her six-year-old son Peter is spoiled, frail, disturbed by the dark undercurrents; Toby's plain daughter Helen (from a first marriage) has recently come home from boarding-school, with memories of her dead mother, coldness and jealousy towards her stepmother and half-brother; and governess Clare is fastidious, ambitious, restless, edgy, easily provoked by Peter. Then early one morning Peter is found dead, mutilated (after suffocation) in the pit of an outdoor privy. Another act of Indian terrorism? So it seems. But Inspector Singh thinks otherwise--first suspecting Clare and Toby (did Peter catch them mid-adultery?), then sure that jealous sibling Helen is the killer. The inquest verdict implicates none of them, however; the haunted household splits up--with Clare disappearing, Toby and Isabel staying in India, Helen heading for England. . . where she'll live in London seediness with her eccentric, do-gooder Aunt Sophie (a marvelous character). It gradually becomes clear, then, that Helen--paralyzed by depression, eventually studying medicine--is suffering vast guilt. And when, after the war, Helen learns that her father has fallen apart because of post-murder innuendos (""He's interested in nothing--not even in making money, not even in cunt,"" says Isabel), she confesses to killing Peter. . . in a fit of jealousy/revenge. An implausible motive? True enough. So, when Helen finally emerges from prison, taking a new name and a new life in Australia, the whole truth emerges (only half-surprising). . . with Helen's atonement complete at last. As in some of his previous work, King displays a nasty streak here--especially in the cartoonishly ugly glimpses of Toby's sex life. And the final psychosexual analysis is less than fully persuasive. But the atmospheres are expertly done (colonial India, wartime London); the dark tension is solidly sustained (with help from Aunt Sophie's charm/goodness as counterpoint); and devotees of leisurely crime/character fiction will find this a cool, sly, intensely textured case-history.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983

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