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Through its first third, this uneven revenge/redemption novel is entirely disarming. Mark Travis, a dreamy youngish man, addicted to late-TV movies, arrives at the Maryland-shore home of middle-aged Warren Donaldson: Mark, a last-minute substitute, is to stay for the summer as live-in helper to Warren, a semi-invalid whose wife is away on a Europe vacation. And during the summer, while Warren grows fond of the younger man, Mark develops a very romantic passion for Warren's neighbor across the bay--young Daisy King, who's recovering from a nervous breakdown. Then. . . the shattering punchline: Mark kills Daisy's visiting father, evil super-tycoon Hamilton Carver; Mark's real name is Charlie Ellis, and the whole summer was his set-up for murdering the heavily guarded Carver. . . who seduced and abandoned photographer Charlie's wife Anne, a suicide. The rest of the book is less fully absorbing. Charlie flees from justice while flashbacks fill in his romance/courtship with Anne. Next, though free of guilt on some levels, Charlie turns himself in; his lawyer is Freddie Sewell, ""the poor man's F. Lee Bailey""--who investigates Carver's past, finding that he too was motivated by revenge. (He devoted his ""life to making the world as ugly as the world visited upon him the day his son died."") But Charlie seems completely uninterested in establishing a defense-case, refusing to cooperate with psychiatrists eager to declare him legally insane: ""I did something that I knew damned well was legally wrong, a criminal act. I expect to be punished."" (Some references--not really relevant--to the Hinckley case here.) Still, one psychiatrist won't give up on talking to Charlie--and the process awakens him to the unpleasant fact that sexy yet cold wife Anne was no guiltless victim. (""You realized that you had given your life to a woman who was incapable of love. . . . Is it possible that you were trying to kill yourself? Kill the past? That you were trying to kill the whole frustrating experience of your marriage?"") And finally, self-aware for the first time and cleansed by unchanging love from Daisy (his other victim), Charlie escapes from prison and sets off with his camera ""into the world's dark corners"". . . knowing, without fear, that he'll inevitably be caught or killed. Part morality-play, part psychological study, part suspense: a disjointed mishmash--but seductive enough at the start to keep you reading on.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1984
Publisher: Norton