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An inoffensive astronomer gets involved with a new assistant suspected of killing her husband and stepdaughter--and watches his own life dissolve under her spell--in a first novel from British author Rigbey. The moment she arrives at California's Tradescant Observatory, everybody sniffs around Julia Fox like dogs in heat, but her favor inexplicably falls on a workaday second-rater named Lomax, who shambles into her bed only to find that she's about to be arrested for shooting lawyer-husband Lewis and his blank-slate daughter, Gaff. Since Lomax has got into a messy dispute with Professor Anthony Berlins, the eminent head of his project, which has forced both of the men into a summer-length leave, he has plenty of time to hang around the office of Julia's lawyer, beat the bushes of dead husband Lewis's address book, and hold fumbling interviews with potential witnesses. Rigbey is particularly good at evoking Lomax's appealing amateurishness in all these endeavors--his piercing awareness of his incompetence, his pathetic gratitude whenever he runs into somebody (his unsentimental ex-wife Candice, hard-bitten librarian Dorothy Cleaver, an olfactory expert known only as the Nose) who can give him an ounce of help or sympathy. But the momentum Lomax lacks gets into the storytelling, too, until you feel you're watching Sisyphus deposing hopeless witnesses, most of whom remain almost as fuzzy as distant nebulae--or as Lomax himself. Lomax eventually realizes that the observatory's director has maneuvered both him and Professor Berlins to the sidelines in order to publicize a total solar eclipse with the kind of hype usually reserved for, say, big, gaudy first novels. Lomax is still bemused when Julia's trial finally comes up. By this time, though, the back-and-forth of the courtroom carries the story to a conclusion that will leave most readers wondering how they could have missed something so obvious. Perry Mason through a glass darkly. Summer reading--for people with time on their hands.

Pub Date: July 3rd, 1995
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Pocket