DUNSTER by John Mortimer


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Mortimer (Titmuss Regained, 1991, etc.) returns with a neatly plotted, fast-paced entertainment--a mix of suspense and social comedy that disturbs stereotypes by pitting an overly zealous muckraking journalist against a sympathetic pillar of the Establishment. Narrator Philip Progmire is an amiable, passive fellow who didn't choose to be an accountant (his father-in-law got him the job at Megapolis Television) any more than he chose his wife Beth (Ophelia to his Hamlet at Oxford). Journalist Dick Dunster is his polar opposite, a hair shirt who despises success and fearlessly pursues the truth, even when it hurts friends and loved ones. He chose Philip as his friend when they were London schoolboys and remained an ""inescapable"" factor in his life until he absconded with Beth, leaving Philip to console himself in middle age with his teenaged daughter and amateur theatricals. There are the makings here of an arresting novel of character, but Mortimer concentrates instead on the suspense that arises when Dunster, writing a series on War Crimes for Megapolis, charges that its chairman, Sir Crispin (Cris) Bellhangar, was responsible for the deaths of women and children when he ordered a church demolished in northern Italy during WW II. Since Philip admires Cris, an unpretentious boss and honorable man, and is convinced that Dunster's allegations are worthless, he surprises himself by standing up to his old nemesis. Dunster is accused of libel; suspense builds with the tracking down of old soldiers and a surprise witness during the trial. The melodramatic denouement is a reminder of the moral complexity of battlefield decisions. The disappointment here is that Mortimer doesn't do much with Dunster, who recedes from view as the plot thickens; still, his latest is just provocative enough to keep readers alert and amused.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1993
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Viking