Purdy (Malcolm, In a Shallow Grave) is nothing if not a one-of-a-kind writer, and one probably shouldn't be surprised as he lurches about here from soap-opera into Gothic complications and ghost-story. The names alone in this novel give some idea of its prissy, eccentric character: Duane Bledsoe, Dr. Cressy, Duke La Roche, Estelle Dumont. Duane is a teenager whose two older brothers, Justin and Douglas, are killed in battle during World War II. An ice-skater (but very short for his age), Duane has had his Olympic hopes dashed by his starchy, uptight lawyer father Eugene (with whom he unhappily lives, mother Aileen having been denied custody at divorce). And Duane is tutored privately at home by Duke La Roche, a local college teacher. But, worst of all, Duane is regularly paid ghostly visits by dead brother Justin. Dead Justin, in fact, seems to be pulling all the strings from above, ultimately enmeshing Duane in the spider-lady clutches of the aforementioned Estelle Dumont, a rich widow who was once in love with Justin. And when Duane now gets her pregnant, she marries Duke. . . but relinquishes the child to Duane and his father. True, this plot is the stuff of afternoon TV. Likewise the dialogue: ""Duke turned back. His anger gave way now to his need, and he implored, 'Since you don't want her as badly as I, or perhaps as Justin, can't you go to her and tell her of my desperation?'"" But Purdy's faithful return to the thematic touchstone-figures of his fiction--the female ""collector"" of men; a lost brother; physical shortness--adds serious weight; and until about halfway through it's even possible to take enjoyment from the wheezy oddness of it all. Half divertissement, haft balderdash, then--another curious book by an always-curious writer.