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by Joan Aiken

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1989
ISBN: 1850896801
Publisher: Doubleday

A pleasing amalgam of this prolific author's most popular fictional avocations: a witty narration by an intelligent if befuddled protagonist; a sturdy supporting cast (in this case, British arty types are done up in gleaming comic strokes); queer turns of fate, menacing-to-murderous; and some mulling over psychological/philosophical views of the human condition--this time the foggy matter of double identity, self-perceived and imposed from without, a condition that leads here to a terrible marriage and murder. Cat Conwil, 35, an actress of no startling talent, is amazed to be tapped for a starring role in a 19th-century costume drama for TV. Her character, "Rosie," is a "sweet, pretty, accomplished, soft-spoken, flint-hearted bitch of a girl." In and out of Rosie's personality "outline," Cat unwittingly attracts millionaire, and recent peer, James Tybold, one of whose heavy-handed projects was the cleaning of a Dorset bay of pollution (and people) and the construction of a Greek village (authentic even to the importing of a Greek priest). In a short time, Cat/Rosie has married "Ty"--or, rather, Jas/Jim. Ty, like Cat, seems to have had two past-seared personalities teetering within. But unlike docile Cat, Ty, a nasty sort, is a mine field of menace. He detonates hugely to Cat's innocent references to his past, which she once had inhabited briefly. By the time Cat, now in Ty's Dorset village, has survived four murder attempts, she wants it all to end. It does. The bell tolls thrice in the "intellectual" community whose residents include: two wise elderly women of surprising resources; an eerily brilliant child; a mumbling native of unusual gifts; a delightfully horrid scenic-designer; and other good chaps and drear. Although neither quite a closet study of identity problems nor a black comedy, it all clicks together. A delightful entertainment for Aiken's following.