Rather too tricky for its own good, this first novei by art historian Levey seems at first to be a comic/campy memoir of decadent British adolescence, then shifts into a more emotional coming-of-age vein (homosexual division), and only toward the end emerges as a not-very-convincing exercise in psychopathology--complete with a bald borrowing of Dame Agatha's most famous twist. The narrator is 16-year-old Nickv Gonville--handsome, blithe, apparently bisexual: he's first seen with an adoring teacher/lover (wearing an ""I Love Paedophilia"" button), then goes into a tizzy when his beloved cousin Mopsa announces her engagement. Deciding to leave school, Nicky stays with his vicar-godfather Philip, in the town of Spenn--his real home now that his father is dead (a suicide) and his neglectful actress-mother is, as usual, filming abroad. But then Nicky discovers Philip's dead body: a heart attack, though some indications of minor foul play are found. And he accepts a kind invitation to stay for the interim with police sergeant Bob Parrott and his childless wife Edna--plain, kindly people whom Nicky mocks at first, then comes to love, returning to them even after his mother cornes back from Europe (with a new husband). When Edna leaves on a family emergency, however, quasi-paternal sexual love blooms between the embarrassed Bob and the coolly seductive Nicky' ("" 'It won't sting, you know,' I said airily"")--a relationship that becomes increasingly ugly in the twice-twisted but unsatisfying final pages. A strange item, then: mystery/crime buffs are likely to be put off early on; others, attracted by the sexual psychology, may feel cheated by the windup. But Levey writes well enough--in a crisp, chilly, often-nasty vein--to hold some readers through all of this novel's slippery, intriguing, ultimately disappointing gear-shifts.
Pub Date: May 1, 1983
Page Count: -
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton--dist. by David & Charles