MANEUVERS by Fredric Neuman


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Dr. Neuman's first outing for psychiatrist/narrator Abe Redden, The Seclusion Room (1978), was very nearly a model of how to expand a murder-mystery plot into broader, more deeply satisfying fiction; this second novel, unfortunately, is very nearly a model of how not to do the very same thing. Redden now takes us back to his younger days, to his stint with the US Army in 1961 Nuremberg. The emphasis in the early chapters is on comedy--as fledgling psychiatrist Captain Redden, a gently rebellious sort, wryly tangles with pompous officers (some solid M*A*S*H-style dialogue), crass colleagues, and a few pathetic patients. But the comic tone here is uneven, slipping over into strained farce (a belabored running gag about a bedwetting research-project by Redden's boss), clashing ineffectively with the more serious vignettes--like the death of Sandra Collins, an officer's young daughter who is briefly cared for by a frazzled Capt. Redden after she's discovered in shock in nearby woods (a botched, illegal abortion). And then, when Lieutenant Sidney Konisberg disappears from the ""secret base"" at Waldheim after attempting to consult Capt. Redden re depression, the novel becomes increasingly enmired in slow, talky sleuthing. Was the missing Lieut. Konigsberg selling secrets to the enemy? (It's Cuban-missile-crisis time.) Was he involved in smuggling? Was he really engaged to the daughter of a local ex-Nazi general? Could his disappearance possibly be connected to the abortion/death of Sandra Collins? So wonders Redden as he investigates, along with a cartoonishly crude non-M.D, colleague; and there are scattered laughs along the way, many of them in the slick mystery-comedy vein of television's Rockford Files (scary dogs, precocious kids, loony witnesses). But Neuman seems uncertain what sort of book he wants to write here--satirical farce, breezy comedy, or conventionally serious mystery. (The whodunit itself is serviceable, if plot-heavy.) And the result, though sporadically funny and atmospheric, is often dullish, rarely involving, and at least 100 pages too long--with Neuman's talent on ample display yet dismayingly ill-packaged.

Pub Date: Aug. 12th, 1983
ISBN: 0981484360
Publisher: Dial/Doubleday