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Laiken's previous psychological thriller, Death Among Strangers, won an Edgar for best first novel of 1987. Her second--murder and madness among brothers and sisters during the drug-drenched Sixties--offers an equally intense and somber serving of neo-Gothic thrills. It's the Summer of Love (1967) and narrator/heroine Renee and best pal Fran are living it to the hilt, studying at the Univ. of Buffalo, rooming off-campus, smoking pot, shoplifting food and clothes as needed. An exciting time, but not a peaceable one: Renee's husband, Barry, has vanished, and during the past weeks someone's been breaking into her apartment, scrawling threatening messages. Moreover, Renee's thoughts keep drifting back to her adolescence, when--as depicted in brief, ever-more revelatory flashbacks--her mom slashed her wrists after Renee saw her adored brother Leon do something awful in ""the purple room."" Could long-unseen Leon be the one breaking into Renee's apartment? Could it be Barry? Or high-strung Fran, suffering from her own sibling troubles as she tries to track down a long-lost brother? Or Duane, the ""dangerous"" young Indian who lives in the basement and whose erotic fire nearly incinerates Renee (""I was out of control,"" she confesses, ""a puppy on a leash, a love slave"")? Events take a dire turn when one of Renee's friends is run down by a car and when Renee then finds Duane stabbed, evidently mistaken for her. A note from Fran directs Renee to a rendezvous; there--after a flashback unveils the clark sibling-secret of the purple room--the present-day mystery unfolds in a frantic climax featuring incest, confused identity, and Renee's sudden catapult into adulthood as she must kill to save her own life. The plot--with its reliance on contrived sibling-themed narrative turns--defies belief; but Laiken's subtle and slow rendering of familial horrors bathes the story in an effectively nightmarish aura, like a Chirico painting in prose.

Pub Date: June 7th, 1990
Publisher: Little, Brown