The Bernan Affair gets off the ground with a bang. The year is 1921. The place, a darkened street in Paris. A one-legged shoelace peddler, Etienne Bernan -- blackened, burned, horribly deformed -- accosts a fashionably dressed older woman. ""Don't forget the war wounded,"" he exhorts, pulls out a revolver, and shoots her in the stomach. The crime? Parricide. Adrienne Bernan, the victim, was Etienne's mother. The cripple retains Counselor Richard Dalleau, his erstwhile war buddy, twenty-three years old, fiercely independent, and hungry for recognition. In the courtroom scene, which comes finally and none too soon at the end of the novel, Dalleau pulls out all the metaphysical stops of French adjudication. He rubs the jurors' noses in the spoils of war. He insists that Etienne is the tragic legatee of a civilization which forces its young men ""to plunge the knife into the mother of mankind: humanity."" The Bernan Affair enthralls at both ends, but the problems come in-between, as Kessel introduces an episodic panoply of characters and events which fail to relate sufficiently even to Dalleau's attempt to exculpate the man by blaming the times. We're told the people here were introduced in The Medici Fountain. Presumably an acquaintance with that earlier work would be helpful.