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Originally published in England in 1954, this third early Mortimer novel now to be issued in the US is a considerable pleasure--a spare account, with glints of mystery and menace, of a sudden crisis in a middle-class marriage. The action is confined to one summer's day in Maidenhead, a well-heeled Thames-side town outside London. Swinton, owner of a furniture factory, is off to work, leaving behind his 38-year-old wife Julia and their three children. The day has started with a mystery: young Sam's sighting of a strange man in their boathouse. Soon there is another mystery: a pretty actress called Molly has been found dead on her boat. Accident or crime? When the strange man appears at Julia's kitchen door, she lets him in; she is curious, unafraid, physically aroused. The man is Molly's brother; though disturbed (is he an escaped mental patient?), he has reminded the happily married Julia of her beauty (invisible to her family) and her mortality. Before leaving, the man produces Swinton's cigarette case, which he'd found on Molly's boat, and at once everything looks ominously different. Julia is no longer one half of a loving union: ""she was drowning, and drowning alone."" In the evening, on Swinton's return, it emerges that he had met Molly just two weeks before, and had felt the identical emotions as Julia, that afternoon. ""If they had both suddenly been drawn to a different, young and cruel world in which they no longer had any place, couldn't the day possibly be explained?"" There was no crime, then, nor even any infidelity, though nonetheless a close call for the marriage. How delicately, even chastely, Mortimer handles the passions that rock this marriage. Some readers may see this as timidity, but they will surely acknowledge the deftness with which he presents not just a couple, but a family; his children, incidentally, are superb.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Viking