Email this review


Can't someone find Jack Olsen a solid plot to go along with his knack for downbeat, police-procedural character and atmosphere? Again, as in the gorier, more complicated Night Watch (1979), his gritty narrative talent seems largely wasted on the comic-book psycho-horror story here. The setup: people tend to disappear right in the vicinity of the City Justice Building (in an unnamed ""port"" city). First there's Margot Gamble, wife of artist Severn, who walks in to pick up some freelance typing and promptly vanishes. Then there's retarded child Sammy Schulte--whose new bicycle is found near the building. And what about police informer ""Candy,"" a transvestite who's found dead (his heart cut out) right behind the building? Could there be a connection? So wonders gorgeous, sassy, stubborn rookie cop Tally Wickham (a special friend of Sammy's). And her incompatible partner Jimmy Boon wonders too: he's a tough, bitter, vulgar (but classical-music-loving) cop whose wife Anna seems to have walked out on him again. . . or just maybe she, too, somehow vanished on her way into the Justice Building. The answer? Well, would you believe that Ugo, the building's janitor, is a psychotic Italian war-orphan who (directed by visions) is re-assembling his dead family (or facsimiles thereof) in the building's sealed-off basement? And would you believe that, even after a judge also disappears, no one suspects Ugo (who is visibly mentally defective)? And would you believe that only two people think of searching the basement? The two: Tally, who goes Nancy Drew-ing on her own; and distraught husband Severn, who goes underground, through old tunnels, to burrow into Ugo's secret hideout and find his beloved Margot. Some readers may put up with this hyper-dumb plot--and with some psychological padding--so they can hang in there with Boon and Tally, who make a nice, abrasive odd couple á la Wambaugh. But most will want to pass this by. . . and hope that next time Olsen will latch on to a story-line that's as grainily convincing as his cop-talk and neighborhood backgrounds.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1981
Publisher: Atheneum