A British first novel that opens a claustrophobically creepy window into the mind of a madman as plausible as John Fowles's Collector. Old Larry Mann, apparently at loose ends since his wife Doreen left him 1 years ago and he retired from his job as a locker attendant at the Camden baths, lives for his small victories: his daily power struggles with his busybody landlady Ethel Duck; his cringing self-righteousness in his dealings with Doreen's brother Harry and her daughter June, his last wavering ties to the outside world; his invincible respectability in wearing his hairpiece night and day; and--since her arrival in the second-floor flat--his oppressive attentions to university student Amanda Tyson. Though Amanda, inoffensive, lonely, and all too easily bullied, plainly wants to be left alone, old Larry grinningly insinuates himself into her life, showering her with gifts of fruit, cigarettes, a lavish tea, and a clock radio; letting himself into her flat to check on her things; intercepting messages from the lover he's convinced is married and the parents who don't deserve to be put back in touch with their daughter. At the approach of Christmas--a season the neighborhood has special reason to welcome with foreboding--old Larry's ministrations rise to a demented pitch; but his voice, fastidious in its lower-class vulgarity, remains petrified in wheedling self-justification. And despite the horrific climax you know is waiting under the holiday wrappings, it's this narrative voice, seductively repellent in its Uriah Heep cadences, that's the real triumph of Evans's debut. A little masterpiece of smirking evil. Ruth Rendell can retire secure in knowing she's passed the torch.