A GATHERING OF SAINTS by Christopher Hyde


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 A baroque, delightfully gruesome serial-killer whodunit set in WW II London. Known mostly for formula thrillers, Hyde (Black Dragon 1992, etc.) accomplishes a superb turn with his latest, its title referring to a horrific, overwrought religious painting by the campy British romantic John Martin. While nightly Nazi bombings turn vast portions of London into rubble, Detective Inspector Morris Black pursues a serial killer whose bizarrely positioned bisexual victims seem to predict the locations of the next attack. Is Queer Jack, as the killer is known, a mere monster stalking Hyde's Pynchonesque setting, or is he one of the sexually deviant crew that cracked the Nazi Enigma radio code, and thus privy to ghastly information that Whitehall cannot divulge? The story is complicated by an upper-class Nazi spy lurking among the British warlords, an aristocratic cabal that wants to surrender Britain to Hitler, and the fact that Inspector Black, a quiet plodder given to psychic flashes of insight, is Jewish and therefore mistrusted by his mostly anti-Semitic superiors. As if this weren't enough, Hyde adds a rather labored romantic entanglement, as Inspector Black is seduced by Katherine Copeland, a morally conflicted American spy posing as a journalist. The affair leads to a few made-for-cinema scenes with the lovers embracing as bombs explode around them. Fortunately, Hyde's more-is-more plot, his passionately melodramatic prose (a portion of the city that escapes destruction is ``a shadowed, somber limbo in the midst of chaos where the dead and those attending them were safe from further harm''), a parade of historical characters who range from the stoic Scotland Yard forensic pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury to a debauched Guy Burgess and a crisply cool Ian Fleming, and the howlingly campy finish on the dome of St. Paul's, nicely overcome any modest lapses. Well-researched, relentlessly grim, and remarkably evocative of its time and place.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-671-87580-9
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Pocket
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1996