TEETH OF THE DOG by Jill Ciment


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There will always be innocents wandering about in the worst places abroad, and most of them will always be Americans, like the two described here by Ciment (The Law of Falling Bodies, 1993). The Melanesian island of Vanduu is about as far off the map as you can fall. Dropped somewhere in between the Philippines and Indonesia, it’s primitive, remote, and not exactly part of the tourist circuit. Blessed with beautiful beaches, a tropical climate, a mishmash of competing religions, and a pre-modern culture, it could offer a good holiday to a sybaritic anthropologist, however, and that probably explains why Thomas Strauss is there. A renowned American scholar of erotic rituals, Thomas visits Vanduu with his wife, Helene. Nearly 30 years his junior, Helene’s an ex-stripper who became Thomas’s guide to the sexual netherworlds he wrote about before marrying her. In Vanduu, they meet Adam Finster, an American expatriate who makes a living selling love potions—pheronome perfumes—to the locals. Adam tries to show Thomas and Helene the “real” Vanduu, but after he seduces the sexually starved Helene, she flees him and goes off with Thomas on their own. This proves to be a big mistake when Thomas kills a native boy in a car accident and later dies of a heart attack, leaving Helene to face the prospect of a manslaughter trial on her own. Unwilling to subject herself to the vagaries of Vanduuan justice, she turns fugitive and tries to flee the country secretly. To succeed, she needs the help of someone steeped in the local customs, and she knows no one in Vanduu but Adam. Can he be trusted to get her out of this mess? Somewhat formulaic and too self-consciously rough (—He cupped her breast like a man cups a handful of cherished water—). But a good read—told with real style in the best Graham Greene manner.

Pub Date: March 31st, 1999
ISBN: 0-517-70202-9
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999


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