FROM A HIGH PLACE by Edward Mathis


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Dan Roman, 36, makes his debut as a Dallas-based narrator/shamus here--as he returns for a recuperative visit to his hometown of Butler Wells, Texas. Once he arrives at his cabin near Butler Wells, however, Dan is sleuthing instead of relaxing: his old high-school teacher Mrs. Boggs asks Dan to look into the death of her 75-year-old librarian husband--a supposedly accidental (or suicidal) nighttime fall from a local cliff. Was mild-mannered Mr. Boggs murdered'? Dan thinks it's possible--especially when he hears whispery tales about Boggs' secret doings as an unlikely sexual adventurer and Nazi-hunter. But soon, after heavy-handed hints accumulate (the reader is way ahead of the plodding sleuth), Dan realizes that Boggs was probably killed only because of What He Saw that night--the very same night that local tycoon Clay Garland committed gunshot suicide! Furthermore, it becomes clear that the guilty parties are still close by. . .when Dan is nearly killed (twice) during a night of rather overdone mayhem. (Dan's attackers die in assorted gruesome styles.) Meanwhile, too, Dan is breathing heavily through reunions with an old flame (widow of that dead tycoon) and two old high-school-football buddies: author Mathis lays on the nostalgia, regret, and introspection extra-thick, with spasms of pseudo-poetry and verbose analysis. (""In my usual omniscient fashion I had subconsciously been weighing guilt against justification."") And all these plot-strands come together in a predictable, contrived denouement involving gothic secrets and psychosexual conspiracies. Overplotted and overwritten, then--but, when not straining pretentiously, Mathis shows talent for regional dialogue, characterization, and atmosphere; and Dan himself, though lumbered with an arbitrary, ostentatiously tragic past (Vietnam POW-dom, dead wife, dead teen-age son), has a modicum of charm that might develop in more modest future episodes.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Scribners