A spare and disturbing meditation on familial obligations and affections, by the prolific and unjustly neglected Canadian writer Cohen (Emotional Arithmetic, 1995, etc.). Set, like many of Cohen's previous novels, in and around modern-day Toronto, this latest story traces the increasingly tense and confused relations between two grown brothers: Paul, studious, a detached observer of life, and Henry, the elder, a rowdy mechanic with a taste for the high life. The two share memories of having preserved each other through childhood disasters. Their parents marriage founders; as adolescents, they are involved in a fatal auto accident. As adults, their tastes would seem to drive them apart (Henry has his own garage; Paul works in the serene precincts of a used- and rare-book shop), yet a series of curious events thrust them together. Paul has fallen in love with Judith, whom he meets at the bookstore. Seductive and self-destructive in equal measure, she insists that only Paul can save her from the seedy allure of Toronto's underworld. (When they first meet, she is a heroin addict.) Attempting to protect her, he is drawn into the orbit of Nicko Ross, a perverse, lethal, zestfully crooked cop. Henry, Paul discovers, has a complex, baffling relationship with Ross: Are they partners in crime? Does Henry owe Ross a considerable amount of money? In attempting to find out, and to save Henry, Paul discovers that his brother is, in many ways, a stranger, willfully, dangerously misleading him, and that Judith, despite her denials, may be involved in a violent affair with Nicko. Paul flees the city for the simple comforts of the countryside. Inevitably, though, he's drawn back to Toronto, incapable of letting the mysteries alone. A violent confrontation leads to murder, and to Paul's grieving acceptance of the complexities of the human heart. Concise, chilly work, an unblinking examination of the manner in which love and hate intertwine. Grim, but deeply compelling.