We're told that Random House, Ellin's publisher since 1958, declined to bring out this new novel because it's too...



We're told that Random House, Ellin's publisher since 1958, declined to bring out this new novel because it's too ""controversial."" And, though the so-so quality here may have also been a factor, one certainly can imagine some readers taking offense at the virulent racism of Ellin's undeniably vivid narrator/villain: Charles Witter Kirwan, a terminally ill Brooklyn-brahmin landlord (his Dutch ancestors founded the neighborhood) who has decided to blow up his apartment house. . . and thus kill off some of the ""Bulangas"" (blacks) who've ruined his ancestral street. But Kirwan's feverish, autobiographical monologues alternate with chapters involving hero John Milano of Watrous Associates (a big-time private investigation firm)--whose latest case will coincidentally lead him to foil Kirwan's scheme. Milano, you see, is after some stolen paintings; he suspects that the shady Rammaert Gallery is involved; the receptionist there just happens to be black-and-beautiful Christine Bailey, an aspiring actress whose family lives in that Brooklyn building scheduled for Kirwan's one-man demolition. And when Milano asks Christine to help him out, information-wise, she asks him, in return, to investigate her kid sister Lorena: where (the family wants to know) has Lorena been getting the wads of money she's been spending around? Well, as Milano slowly realizes, Lorena is getting that dough from dirty-old-man Kirwan (for assorted sexual services). So Milano will eventually end up in a one-on-one, countdown-to-bombtime showdown with the crazy aristocrat/terrorist. . . while persuading the cautious, prickly Christine to fall in interracial love with him. Ellin develops his promising overlapping-plot idea without much inspiration. (Ruth Rendell or Victor Canning would have found ironic twists galore.) The Milano/Christine relationship--presumably intended to parallel the Kirwan racism with black/white harmony--is never really convincing. But the N.Y.C. locales (the Brooklyn architecture, an off-off-B'way theater, etc.) are handled with enough dash to move the simple story along briskly--and Kirwan's ragings, even if loathsome, do sometimes take on a certain ugly-comic, Thomas-Bergeresque authority.

Pub Date: June 27, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Mysterious Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1983