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BELLADONNA by Michael Stewart

BELLADONNA

By Michael Stewart

Pub Date: July 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-06-017982-1
Publisher: HarperCollins

 From the title-pun--about a beautiful but deadly heroine--on: an intelligent, literate occult thriller that suffers from the melodramatic excess typical of Stewart's previous chillers (Grace, 1989, etc.). One night, while studying at Oxford in the 1970's, budding American historian Matthew Cavewood is visited and seduced by a mysterious young woman clad in garb typical of the 16th century-- the era of Matthew's specialty, genius alchemist Nathaniel Shawcrosse. The woman vanishes that night, but her memory haunts Matthew for the next 15 years; and so he's shocked when, in the house that he's bought near the Univ. of Virginia for his fiancÇe, Hazel, and her son, he detects the perfume that graced the woman that memorable night. Matthew's shock grows when, at the school- -where he's writing a biography of Shawcrosse--he sees a portrait of his mystery woman, whom he learns was Isabel Hardment, Shawcrosse's lover. Now obsessed with Isabel--and following in the footsteps of Shawcrosse, whose life's work evidently proved the reality of reincarnation--Matthew begins to use ancient, herbal drugs to try to contact Isabel. His erratic behavior frightens Hazel; but real trouble starts only after Isabel responds to Matthew's call and causes the fatal car crash of one of her descendants, whose body she invades and refashions into her own. The deliciously malicious Isabel then seduces Matthew in a torrid affair marked by arcane rituals and scorching sex; but when Hazel finds out, Matthew is forced to choose--and he chooses Hazel, setting the enraged Isabel, rejected similarly by Shawcrosse 300 years before, on a violent vendetta that threatens to engulf Hazel and son, Matthew, and herself. The multiclimax finale to this entertaining but oh-so- breathless tale features poison, a slashing, a hanging, incantations, and a breaching of the ``Gate'' that separates mind and matter. Stewart, a generally talented writer, just doesn't know when to quit.