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As was made clear in The Fire Watch (1980), Burke is a cool, strong suspense writer--perhaps even cool and strong enough to carry readers through this somewhat disappointing second novel: a creakily plotted, unevenly paced tale of adultery, murder, frame-up, courtroom-drama, and revenge. The narrator-hero is smalltown reporter Bill Martell, who's having an affair with luscious, impulsive Judy, wife of night editor Roy Klijner; and after a brief falling-out, Bill and Judy plan--in grimly mundane detail--to run away together. But when Judy doesn't show up for their rendezvous, Bill goes stumbling into her dark house--where he finds blood every place he touches and then. . . the cops, who finger him for Judy's murder, even though her body is nowhere in sight. Maddening police interrogations ensue; the cops seem to be faking evidence against Bill (they also steal his TV and stomp on his feet); the court-appointed psychiatrist (who picks his nose) is obviously on the cops' side. And, worst of all, Bill's own lawyer--a near-senile public defender--thinks he's guilty. So, out on bail, Bill toys with flight to Canada but then decides to prove (with sleuthing help from new girlfriend Pam) that Judy's husband Roy is the killer. The results are pathetic, however, and the trial goes disastrously--till Bill's lawyer drops dead (""it was my first decent break""), necessitating a mistrial. And at this point Bill goes a bit wild, using violence to force Roy into a confession (complete with exhumation of Judy's hidden corpse). . . but then committing an accidental murder himself. This ending--with an inappropriately lightweight final twist--doesn't really work; and throughout, in fact, Burke's story is full of implausible, exaggerated, or contrived moments--all of which keep his novel from taking on the powerful, down-and-dirty reality of The Fire Watch. Still, Burke's dialogue is sharp (especially in the cat-and-mouse interrogations); his scene-by-scene dramatizing is crisp, often darkly funny; and poor Bill is a half-likable anti-hero. So you'll probably keep reading right along, even if this overextended crime tale (which sometimes seems like a much-inflated mystery-magazine story) leaves you feeling far from satisfied.

Pub Date: July 15th, 1981
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown