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San Francisco shrink searches for missing woman he loves, who happens to be married to his oldest friend--in a second novel from Levin, who was tunny and clear-eyed in Extraordinary Means (1987) but proves a disappointingly flat-footed guide to California Street. After dodging commitment for years, psychologist Joel Abramowitz finally acknowledges that he is in love with his friend Ted's wife. It's hard to fight temptation, especially after do-gooder socialite Margot declares her wish to leave Ted for Joel. Before their passion is consummated, however, Margot's Jaguar goes off a cliff, but the body that's recovered is that of one of Joel's patients--and she's been strangled. While the police investigate the murder (in which Ted is prime suspect), Joel searches for Margot, who has disappeared. Unfortunately, it's clear from the start that Margot is spoiled and manipulative and so it's hard to care whether Joel finds her. Relationships among the characters--as well as the roles in the mystery played by several of Joel's patients--strain credibility. And the other issue--will Joel finally recognize that his friend, colleague, and no-strings sex partner Denise is really the woman he should love?--has such an obvious answer that the reader tires of Joel's blindness even faster than does long-suffering Denise. Best here is the sympathetic, unsentimental portrayal of Joel as psychologist, using patience, intuition and skill to help his patients and also--in some poignant scenes--coax information from reluctant witnesses. In all, though: slowly paced and never zany enough to offset the lack of plausibility and suspense.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Simon & Schuster